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Social media effects on adolescents

How much time do teenagers spend on social media across their development? And what are the long-term effects of time spent on social media? In this post, I will discuss the findings of a recent study about adolescent’s use of social media. In addition, I will share research-based tips for parents to help teens develop a healthy pattern of social media use over time.

 Social media use

Previous research found that social media is related to various positive outcomes, for example:

  • Improved communication with other people
  • Better social connections
  • Easier to establish friendships and romantic relationships

However, spending a lot of time on social media may have negative effects, for example increased depression or cyberbullying.

 Patterns of social media use across adolescence

This study explored different patterns of social media time use throughout adolescence over a 6-year period. In addition, the authors examined the long-term effects of the social media patterns. The results showed that there were three different patterns of social media time use:

  • Moderate users: the majority of adolescents (83%) reported moderate levels of social media use (30-60 minutes of social media per day) and used social media steady over time from early adolescence into early adulthood.
  • Increasers: 12% of the adolescents reported moderate levels of social media use during early adolescence, which increased gradually and ended high by early adulthood.
  • Peak users: a small group of adolescents (6%) reported moderate levels of social media use early in adolescence, which increased quickly after a few years and then returned to moderate levels by early adulthood.

 Effects of social media use

  • Adolescents who were increasers or peak users generally had lower levels of self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to control one’s own behaviors, emotions and cognitions. Adolescents with low levels of self-regulation may struggle to maintain limits on social media.
  • Moderate users had lower levels of depression, aggression, delinquency, social media problems and cyberbullying compared with the other two groups.

 Tips

  • Help your teenager to develop more self-awareness regarding their social media use over time.
  • Explain the importance of maintaining moderate levels of social media use in their lives.
  • Remember that for the majority of adolescents, the time spent using social media remains relatively stable across time and is not related to negative developmental outcomes. Only for a small group of adolescents time spent on social media can become problematic.
  • Adolescents with lower levels of self-regulation may be at risk for negative patterns of social media use. Training in self-regulation may help teenagers to manage their social media use more effectively.

 More information

Coyne, S. M., Padilla‐Walker, L. M., Holmgren, H. G., & Stockdale, L. A. (2018). Instagrowth: a longitudinal growth mixture model of social media time use across adolescence. Journal of research on adolescence.

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