Not too much and not too little: the right amount of social network site use may reduce loneliness among mothers of young children

Social networking sites can provide needed support to mothers raising young children, but only in moderation. A new study done in Japan, published today in BMC Women's Health, examines the association between time spent on social networking sites and loneliness. Here, the the lead author discusses the context and findings.

Being a new mother can be lonely. It may be difficult for others to understand because, in general, women with children are considered blessed and are likely to be surrounded by friends and family. In this blog, I will address some of the reasons for this loneliness and discuss the results of a survey we conducted with new mothers in Japan and what the findings say about reducing loneliness.

Japan is a country with one of the highest levels of gender inequality in the world. Parenting tends to be regarded as a woman’s job. Moreover, due to the increase of nuclear families and the decrease of regional connections, loneliness in mothers raising children is becoming more of a concern.

Factors that affect loneliness

Loneliness is influenced by both personal and social factors. Personal factors include introverted personalities, low self-esteem or attachment styles. Attachment theory assumes that individuals construct relationships with others around them. Their actions are influenced by whether the other person is available as well as by their own estimations of whether they are accepted. This theory led to the formation of the Internal Working Model of attachment.

On the other hand, social factors include social networks and support. Mothers raising children can now obtain a large amount of information on medical care and child health via the internet. The current generation of women who experience pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing use social network sites (SNSs) on a daily basis.

To date, no study has examined how SNS use affects loneliness in mothers raising young children. It is important to assess the actual level of loneliness experienced by such mothers, and to identify social and personal factors associated with this. With this in mind, we aimed to identify predictors of loneliness among mothers raising young children in Japan, with special reference to SNS use.

Our results show a U-shaped relationship between the time spent on smartphones and loneliness. … This suggests there is an optimal range of smartphone use which may be associated with lower levels of loneliness.

In our new study, we conducted an anonymous self-reported questionnaire survey of mothers raising children under the age of 3 years in Nagahama City, Japan, from July 28 to September 29, 2014. Among a total of 638 respondents, data from 523 mothers were analyzed.

We asked the mothers for information on basic characteristics such as age, marital status, subjective economic status, health status, and education level. We also asked them about loneliness, using the revised UCLA Loneliness Scale; social networks, both online and offline; and types of communication devices and information sources used.

Which mothers are less lonely?

All participants used communication devices, particularly smartphones. Our results show a U-shaped relationship between the time spent on smartphones and loneliness. Not having a smartphone and very little smartphone use (<0.5 hours) were associated with higher levels of loneliness. Longer smartphone use (2-3 hours, >3 hours) was also associated with higher levels of loneliness. This suggests there is an optimal range of smartphone use which may be associated with lower levels of loneliness.

We found that low support from SNS friends significantly correlated with high levels of loneliness among mothers raising young children. Loneliness tended to be lower as personal networks grew, both those created through SNS and traditional networks of family and friends. This indicates the potential of SNS to reduce loneliness among mothers.

The present study showed that SNS use may reduce loneliness among mothers raising young children. The beneficial role of bidirectional information support, including SNS, provided by public or commercial services warrants further research.

Although the results of our study may not be generalizable, as the questionnaire survey was conducted among mothers who came for regular health check-ups for their children during a specified time period, loneliness in motherhood is a global concern and we hope our findings will be helpful to other settings and countries.

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