Washington D.C.: With or without physical separation (social-distancing) due to COVID-19, youth are using social media to connect and support each other, according to a recent report based on youth making excessive use of media.
Three leading researchers have published Youth Connections for Wellbeing, an integrative review paper that illuminates how teens support each other through digital media during times of stress and isolation.
Leveraging their expertise across the fields of cultural anthropology, developmental psychology, and clinical psychology, scholars Mimi Ito, Candice Odgers, and Stephen Schueller discuss the potential of digital media to support youth wellbeing.
The work underlying the paper was completed prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The physical isolation that has resulted from shelter-in-place orders has yielded a seismic shift, making it even more critical to understand and leverage technology in a way that benefits youth.
The position paper summarises current knowledge and redirects the conversation about adolescent social media use and wellbeing in three ways that are particularly relevant today:
-Refocusing the debate over the relationship between youth social media use and wellbeing to reflect existing evidence, varied youth perspectives and backgrounds.
– Identifying teen vulnerabilities and assets that may influence problematic and healthy social media engagement.
– Suggesting opportunities where youth social engagement might mitigate vulnerabilities and leverage assets.
In the position paper Ito, Odgers, and Schueller highlight the need to move beyond the simple question of whether more time spent using social media causes mental health problems in adolescents.
Instead, people should consider the specific forms of social media engagement that amplify or mitigate mental health risks for different adolescents. The team integrates findings from existing large-scale reviews, the voices of youth who have grown up on social media, and a systematic review of digital mental health apps available for youth.
The team finds that adolescents’ online risks often mirror offline vulnerabilities. They note that it is particularly important for messages, interventions, and strategies to be targeted and tailored to the most vulnerable youth and those underserved by traditional mental health services.
A number of relevant findings, opportunities, and benefits are outlined in the paper, including:
– Evaluating claims about whether social media use is leading to greater vulnerability for mental health problems for youth, including harassment and bullying, sleep disruption, and exposure to idealized images that may lead to envy.
– Identifying factors such as poverty, discrimination, instability, social marginalisation, and other forms of stress as more significant influences on mental health than technology.
– Revealing that Black and trans youth have reported that online sources of empowerment are sources of support and strategies for coping with and discussing racism and prejudice.
– Offering evidence that extending parental support to online spaces can be more effective in supporting youth wellbeing than restricting technology access, which can create more tension between youth and parents. (ANI)