How Social Media Use Affects Adolescents

Subject: Entertainment & Media
Pages: 12
Words: 3403
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: College

Introduction

With the development of the Internet and the rise of social media, people began spending more and more time online. Adolescents belong to the most vulnerable population, for whom spending time on social networking websites may have adverse effects on their mental wellbeing, happiness, and social identity formation. According to Elsayed (2021), “adolescence is the stage of cultural and social formation,” and if a teenager does not receive guidance and support from their parents or other significant adults, they will search for their social identity by themselves (p. 1). Therefore, it is essential to receive proper knowledge and experience during this period of individual development.

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Social media use significantly impacts social identity formation and self-esteem because modern young people spend much time on social networking websites, such as Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others (Abbas et al., 2019, p. 1). A recent report by the Pew Research Center showed that 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone, “and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly’” (Anderson & Jiang, 2018, p. 2). This research project focuses on the influence of social media use on adolescents from a sociological perspective.

Background

Social media promotes messaging, posting photos and videos, and descriptive posts, giving rise to communication and conflicts. Since adolescents are immature, they often become the victims of online harassment and cyberbullying. As a result, teenagers suffer from depression, anxiety, other psychological disorders, and mental health problems (Keles et al., 2020, p. 80). The question arises: how do these mental health problems influence the construction of social identity and self-esteem? To answer this question, one should explore the effect of social media on young people and investigate whether there are methods to lessen social media usage time among youngsters.

Social media offers numerous benefits to its users, including the possibility to stay in touch with each other and establish new contacts. At the same time, its potential harms should be considered since more and more people believe that social media harms people. The Pew Research Center report showed that one-quarter of teenagers think that social media is the reason for rumor spreading; it decreases face-to-face communication and develops unrealistic views of other people’s lives (Anderson & Jiang, 2018, p. 2). In addition, a considerable number of scientific sources affirm that social media use is linked with various spiritual and corporeal health problems in adolescence (Riehm et al., 2019, p. 1268). Recent research discovered that between 7 to 20% of teenagers show severe symptoms of at least one internalized condition, such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness (Sarmiento et al., 2020, p. 382). Thus, it is vital to study the influence of social media on youths’ mental health and discover whether there is any suggestion to avert them from staying much time online.

From the sociological perspective, social media use may have constructive and destructive effects on adolescents. One of the advantages of social media is that it allows youngsters to create new contacts and find friends. Moreover, they can search for educational resources and share their knowledge with classmates via social media. Nevertheless, the disadvantages overweigh these benefits, causing many adverse effects on teenagers. According to social comparison theory, people tend to associate themselves with others and evaluate their behavior and social status, based on this comparison (Keles et al., 2020, p. 81). Thus, when a teenager follows many successful and wealthy persons on Instagram, they may envy them, which will lead to depression (Keles et al., 2020, p. 81). In comparison, those who follow people with lower performance may increase their self-esteem at the expense of weaker others. These social comparisons distort the adolescents’ understanding of real-life and social relationships and negatively influence their identity formation.

Different theorists consider social identity from different perspectives. For instance, Alex Mitchell believes that identity is the unity of “physical, psychological, moral, and social” processes and internal feelings (Elsayed, 2021, p. 1). Thus, identity makes a person distinct from other people and allows them to feel like a separate unity. Eric Erikson suggests that identity is socially constructed, and people develop their identities through interactions with others and integration into the most suitable moral world (Elsayed, 2021, p. 1). One can see that identity is a social phenomenon, and a person develops it through constant interactions with others.

James Marcia’s theory on the levels of social identity defines four different levels of the development of one’s identity: social identity achievement, postponement, closure, and dispersion (Elsayed, 2021, p. 2). During the first stage, adolescents determine and choose their beliefs, values, and life goals. The second stage involves experimentation with these goals and opinions and is associated with a social identity crisis. During the third stage, teenagers passively obtain their identity and do not question whether their beliefs are correct or not. Finally, the fourth point of identity formation can be identified with adolescents who have neither explored their identity nor committed to it (Elsayed, 2021, p. 2). Marcia’s and the above-mentioned theoretical approaches demonstrate that a teenager develops their identity through social interactions and their views of others. That is why it is vital to scrutinize the effect of social media on these interactions and the formation of the juveniles’ social identity.

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The topic of social media use and its effect on teenagers is significant to the study of society because of the direct influence of social media on identity formation. If adolescents are raised in a safe and supportive environment, the effect of social media use on their identities may be weak. However, if social media is the only source of information and social interactions for some adolescents, their social identity and mental wellbeing may be negatively affected. Social networks, including online social networks, help form and maintain social capital (Bekalu et al., 2019, p. 69). If society does not consider the influence of social networking sites on youngsters today, it will have adults with distorted senses of self in the upcoming time.

Purpose of This Study

The primary purpose of this project is to research the influence of social media on teenagers. The paper will focus on both the positive and negative effects of social media use on juveniles’ health and social identity. In addition, it will examine possible ways to diminish social media use time among youngsters. Finally, the paper will search for specific evidence to prevent young people from spending too much time on social networking websites. The study offers four research questions:

  • Research Question 1: Does social media negatively or positively impact adolescents?
  • Research Question 2: What are effective ways to minimize social media use among teenagers?
  • Research Question 3: Is there specific evidence to prevent adolescents from spending much time on social media?
  • Research Question 4: How social media use is linked to adolescents’ social identity?

Research Methods

This research was designed to inspect the effect of social media on youths and discover practical ways to minimize the time youngsters spend on social networking websites. The researcher needed qualitative data to comprehend whether the influence of social media was positive or negative. Secondary data was used for this research, and most of the sources were scholarly peer-reviewed articles. Secondary data analysis is one of the widely used methods of sociological research. This approach is the most suitable for answering the research questions because it saves time and helps interpret data in a new way. Since the research reviewed secondary sources, no confidential information was released, and no ethical concerns influenced the research process.

The research project used a literature review as the primary research method. Data for this research project comes from various scholarly peer-reviewed journals and the Pew Research Center published between 2018 and 2021. The articles were searched via scholarly databases, such as Google Scholar, PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), ResearchGate, Sage Journals, ScienceDirect, Tandfonline, NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), SpringerLink, and others. The main criteria for the article choice were as follows: articles should be peer-reviewed, current, relevant, related to social sciences, and of social interest. A semi-systematic approach was used to review and synthesize the literature.

The primary purpose of this research method was to overview and synthesize different sources of information to answer the research questions. Since the research questions were both broad and specific, the search strategy was not systematic. For finding the necessary resources, each of the research questions was inserted into the search line of one of the databases, and the most relevant sources were reviewed. In addition, the following keywords and phrases were used to narrow the search: social media and identity, social media use, effects of social media, social media use time, social identity, self-esteem and social media, the impact of social media on adolescents, and some others. Qualitative research was utilized to analyze the information presented in the articles.

The research was conducted in several stages, beginning with the research question definition and ending with a literature review. First, a broader topic was chosen for the research, but it was narrowed down to social sciences. Then, the scope of the review was selected, and it was agreed that the minimum number of articles should be fifteen. This number of articles would be sufficient for primary research of the chosen subject. A semi-systematic review allowed for examining how the topic has developed over time. A content analysis was used for this review to identify and report patterns, subdividing them into themes. This type of analysis could help identify components of social identity theory and find ways to minimize students’ time spent on social media.

For choosing the articles for the research, the research questions were formulated. Then, the areas of controversy were defined, and the sources’ relevancy and credibility were identified. It was decided to use articles written by international authors to compare and contrast the effects of social media on youngsters in different countries. The authors’ arguments were evaluated using a sociological perspective and psychological and health effects on adolescents. The main challenge of the chosen research method was the difficulty of finding current and relevant data. At the same time, secondary source analysis provides a deep understanding of the chosen issue in the shortest period.

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Literature Review

Social media has a long-term effect on adolescents’ life satisfaction. In their research, Orben et al. (2019) argue that social media effects on adolescents’ well-being are minor and reciprocal over time (p. 10226). The researchers used random-intercept cross-lagged panel models to analyze data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study that continued from 2009 to 2016 (Orben et al., 2019, p. 10226). More than twelve thousand adolescents aged 10 to 15 years old participated in the research (Orben et al., 2019, p. 10226). The authors analyzed the duration of time pupils spend on social networking sites during a school day and the life satisfaction domains. The study results showed that the use of social media was associated with, to some extent, declining life satisfaction across all areas for females and mean satisfaction for males (Orben et al., 2019, p. 10226). Thus, the adverse effect of social media on life satisfaction is contingent on gender and inconsistent.

The research by Brunborg and Andreas (2019) focuses on the adverse impacts of social media on adolescents’ health and addictive behavior. The authors argue that a surge in time spent on social networking websites leads to increased depression, problems with behavior, and “episodic heavy drinking” (p. 1). The researchers used the first-differencing method (FD) to analyze the associations between the time spent on social media and various health and behavior outcomes (Brunborg & Andreas, 2019, p. 8). In total, 769 students with an average age of 15 years old participated in the 6-month follow-up (Brunborg & Andreas, 2019, p. 8). The study results showed that time spent on social media was positively connected with despair, behavior changes, and heavy drinking incidents. Moreover, variations in time spent on social networking sites (increasing this time) were interrelated with the variations in the three variables mentioned above (Brunborg & Andreas, 2019, p. 13). Those adolescents who began to devote more time to social media demonstrated more signs of depression and behavior complications because they decreased face-to-face communication and were more likely to associate themselves with others.

Cross-sectional research by Kolhar et al. (2021) examines the effect of social media on sleep duration, social collaboration, and learning outcomes. The authors argue that social media has more negative effects on students than positive ones. Thus, students become more distracted while using social networking sites, and their academic performance suffers (Kolhar et al., 2021, p. 2217). A sedentary lifestyle, which is associated with social media use, leads to various health problems, such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, and mental problems, such as depression and nervousness (Kolhar et al., 2021, p. 2217). Finally, the relationships with family members and friends suffer. The study results demonstrated that social media harms students’ social wellbeing, sleep length, and academic performance.

Umar and Idris’s (2018) research focuses on the effect of social media use on psychosocial behavior and educational performance. The authors hypothesized that social media use had no significant effect on academic performance and psychosocial behavior of secondary school students (Umar & Idris, 2018, p. 41). They utilized the descriptive survey design to observe the associations between the variables. The study results displayed that social media use has a substantial effect on students’ educational progress and psychosocial behavior. Adolescents become addicted and less attentive, thus distracting from study and lowering performance. Moreover, although social networking sites promote communication and new connections, they increase cyberbullying and glamorize drug abuse, making many students unhappy and distorting their views of interpersonal relations.

The article by Valkenburg et al. (2021) explores social media’s effect on adolescents’ self-esteem. The authors suggest that the effect of social networking sites differs from teenager to teenager (Valkenburg et al., 2021, p. 58). One of the goals of this project was to investigate how social media use may cause “within-person fluctuations in barometric self-esteem” (Valkenburg et al., 2021, p. 59). The researchers use the Sociometer theory to support the hypothesis that adolescents’ self-esteem will increase if they spend time on social media within the last hour (Valkenburg et al., 2021, p. 60). Rosenberg’s (1965) self-esteem scale was used to analyze the data received from surveys (Valkenburg et al., 2021, p. 64). The scientists found no positive effect of social media use on adolescents’ self-esteem.

The study by Singh et al. (2020) demonstrates that social media can have a diverse effect on different people. The authors argue that those adolescents who spend less than two hours on social media use are mentally healthier than those who spend more than two hours on social media (Singh et al., 2020, p. 3842). To conduct their research, Singh et al. (2020) surveyed 100 students, with 50 students using social media for less than two hours and the other 50 students using social media for more than two hours (p. 3839). The results displayed that social media use hurt youngsters’ spiritual wellbeing and academic performance, especially when they spent more than two hours online.

Discussion

The study’s overall purpose was to investigate the impact of social media use on adolescents and find ways to minimize social media use time among teenagers. In addition, the paper tried to discover the connection between social media use and juveniles’ social identity and self-esteem. The study used a literature review as the primary research method. As a result of the project, the investigation showed that although social media use may positively affect students’ social connections and learning outcomes, most of its effects are negative.

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Most researchers agree that social media use negatively influences adolescents’ mental health. Thus, the studies by Brunborg and Andreas (2019), Kolhar et al. (2021), Singh et al. (2020), Riehm et al. (2019), Sarmiento et al. (2020), and others discovered that social media use leads to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders in adolescents. Social comparison theory shows that young people tend to compare themselves to other people, and such a comparison may lead to envy, low self-esteem, and other problems related to one’s self-image and social identity development (Keles et al., 2020, p. 81). Besides, social networking websites, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and others, give rise to cyberbullying and harassment.

The more time adolescents spend on social media use, the more affected they are by this activity. The researchers claim that social media use distorts teenagers’ views on reality and their understanding of social relationships (Keles et al., 2020; Elsayed, 2021). As a result, their social identity formation suffers because of the distorted reality. Moreover, students’ academic performance decreases with the increase in social media use time (Umar & Idris, 2018; Kolhar et al., 2021). Most of the analyzed sources confirmed the idea that social media use has a negative impact on adolescents, and some practical ways should be found to minimize the time teenagers spend on social networking sites.

Recommendations

The study showed that further steps are needed to prevent adolescents from spending too much time on social media. Social media use is negatively associated with adolescents’ self-esteem, social identity, academic performance, and behavior. Therefore, it is vital to diminish the time students spend on social media; otherwise, they will become mentally unhealthy adults with low self-esteem and distorted identity. Hou et al. (2019) designed an intervention program to manage the time adolescents spend on social media and their emotions related to social media use. Students could reflect on every moment they logged in on their social networking site during this intervention program, using some reminders, such as a lock screen photo on their phones or cards on their desks (Hou et al., 2019, p. 7). These reminders allowed students to control the amount of social media use time and analyze their feelings and emotions without becoming addicted to social media.

Moreover, adolescents may use other self-control strategies to minimize social media use time and prevent addiction. Brevers and Turel (2019) suggest eight types of self-control strategies aimed to minimize this time (p. 555). These strategies include building a safe context with no access to social media, modifying features on a device, delimiting the time of use, self-talk, self-control, and others (Brevers & Turel, 2019, p. 556). Although students may find it difficult to utilize such strategies, the researchers affirm that proactive social media use self-control strategies can effectively minimize social media use time and prevent addiction (Brevers & Turel, 2019, p. 559). Consequently, the earlier teenagers learn to control their social media use time, the better outcomes they will have for their social identity, academic performance, and mental health.

Conclusion

The research showed that social media has more negative than positive effects on adolescents. Modern young people spend most of their time online, and such activities cannot go unnoticed. Spending too much time on social media use harms adolescents’ health, social relationships, and social identity formation. Youngsters do not learn how to interact with people in real life. Instead, they follow their virtual friends online and compare themselves to others. Such comparisons mostly have an adverse effect on teenagers’ self-esteem and distort their views of life. As a result of excessive use of social networking sites, adolescents suffer from mental disorders, depression, nervousness, and other health problems. Moreover, academic performance suffers too as students distract their attention from lessons. All these negative outcomes of social media use should be considered immediately to prevent adolescents from spending too much time online.

Having reviewed various scholarly sources, one can conclude that there are more than a few ways to minimize social media use among teenagers. For example, self-control and self-talk strategies may help youngsters manage their time. Different reminders, either on digital gadgets or paper notes, may be helpful too. When teenagers feel obsessed with social media, they should install special applications on their smartphones and set a time blocker or a similar time control that will prevent them from staying online for a long time. All these methods are only effective when youngsters accept a problem and want to solve it. However, when a teenager denies the addiction but demonstrates all symptoms of its existence, other methods should be used to prevent them from spending too much time online. In conclusion, the negative effect of social media on adolescents is evident, and further research is needed to find effective ways to minimize the time young people spend on its use.

References

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Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Pew Research Center. Web.

Bekalu, M.A., McCloud, R.F., & Viswanath, K. (2019). Association of social media use with social wellbeing, positive mental health, and self-rated health: Disentangling routine use from emotional connection to use. Health Education & Behavior, 46(2S), 69-80. Web.

Brevers, D., & Turel, O. (2019). Strategies for self-controlling social media use: Classification and role in preventing social media addiction symptoms. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 8(3), 554-563. Web.

Brunborg, G.S., & Andreas, J.B. (2019). Increase in time spend on social media is associated with modest increase in depression, conduct problems, and episodic heavy drinking. Journal of Adolescence, 74, 1-23. Web.

Elsayed, W. (2021). The negative effects of social media on the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work. Heliyon, 7(2), 1-15. Web.

Hou, Y., Xiong, D., Jiang, T., Song, L., & Wang, Q. (2019). Social media addiction: Its impact, mediation, and intervention. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 13(1), 1-17. Web.

Keles, B., McCrae, N., & Grealish, A. (2020). A systematic review: The influence of social media on depression, anxiety, and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25(1), 79-93. Web.

Kolhar, M., Kazi, R.N., & Alameen, A. (2021). Effect of social media use on learning, social interactions, and sleep duration among university students. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, 28(4), 2216-2222. Web.

Orben, A., Dienlin, T., & Przybylski, A.K. (2019). Social media’s enduring effect on adolescent life satisfaction. PNAS, 116(21), 10226-10228. Web.

Riehm, K.E., Feder, K.A., Tormohlen, K.N., Crum, R.M., Young, A.S., Green, K.M., Pacek, L.R., La Flair, L.N., & Mojtabai, R. (2019). Associations between time spent using social media and internalizing and externalizing problems among US youth. JAMA Psychiatry, 76(12), 1266-1273. Web.

Sarmiento, I.G., Olson, C., Yeo, G., Chen, Y.A., Toma, C.L., Brown, B.B., Bellmore, A., & Mares, M.-L. (2020). How does social media use relate to adolescents’ internalizing symptoms? Conclusions from a systematic narrative review. Adolescent Research Review, 5(2020), 381-404. Web.

Singh, A., Kumar, H., & Kumari, S. (2020). Impact of social media on adolescent’s mental health. International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts (IJCRT), 8(7), 3837-3843. Web.

Umar, T.I., & Idris, M. (2018). Influence of social media on psychosocial behavior and academic performance of secondary school students. Journal of Education and Entrepreneurship, 5(2), 36-46. Web.

Valkenburg, P., Beyens, I., Pouwels, J.A., van Driel, I.I., & Keijsers, L. (2021). Social media use and adolescents’ self-esteem: Heading for a person-specific media effects paradigm. Journal of Communication, 71(1), 56-78. Web.