Social media and gaming

The ESPAD results confirm the increased popularity of social media use and gaming among adolescent students in Europe, revealing important gender differences. In 2019, the study provided the first estimates of the extent of self-perceived problems with both social media use and gaming.

In the most recent waves, the ESPAD survey deepened the investigation of gaming and social media use, which are increasingly popular due to the widespread use of smartphones and tablets, as well as the wide availability of commercial products targeted at adolescents.

The 2019 results indicate that around 60% of adolescent students reported having played digital games on a typical school day within the last month (68% on a non-school day). In most countries, boys spend twice as much time gaming than girls.

The ESPAD data also revealed that around 94% of respondents used social media in the past week. On average, users spent 2–3 hours on social media on a typical school day, rising to 6 or more hours on non-school days. In most countries, girls reported using social media on non-school days more frequently than boys.

Although teenagers can also experience benefits from social media, there is concern about an association between adolescent social media use and negative health implications, such as sleep problems, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.

ESPAD has therefore investigated the individual perception that adolescents have of problems related to time spent on these activities. To estimate their extent, two non-clinical screening tools were added to the 2019 ESPAD questionnaire.

The results indicated a greater self-perception of high risk of problems related to the use of social media (46 % on average) than gaming activities (21 %).

Noticeable gender differences, correlating with those found in the amount of time spent on these activities, were also revealed: problems related to social media use were more prevalent among girls across all European countries, while those related to gaming were more prevalent among boys.

Concerns related to the excessive use of social media and gaming among young people have been expressed by professionals, as they have been shown to have a similar potential for addiction as psychoactive substances.

The ESPAD findings indicate that it is important to further monitor these behaviours, as the risks related to social media use and gaming present a challenge for public health policies across Europe.


Most recent scientific literature on social media use and gaming based on ESPAD data:

Spilková, J., Chomynová, P. and Csémy, L. (2017), ‘Predictors of excessive use of social media and excessive online gaming in Czech teenagers’, Journal of Behavioral Addictions 6 (4), pp. 611-619, doi:10.1556/2006.6.2017.064.