What positive and negative impact does social media have on young people?
It is over a decade since the exponential growth of social media began and research into this aspect of our modern lives is therefore in its infancy. In this report, the Education Policy Institute investigates what is known so far about the relationship between young people’s use of social media and their emotional and mental wellbeing. This is a summary of the findings by Teacher Toolkit.
Social Media Can Be Positive
Social media has many potential positive influences on young people’s lives, such as increasing social connections, helping with homework and enabling teenagers to develop their identities and share creative projects. Studies have identified some evidence of a beneficial impact on wellbeing, and young people recognise the value of opportunities to connect online. Teenagers with mental health problems or concerns are also able to seek support on the internet, either through social media networks or through online provision of advice and counselling support.
Social Media Can Be Negative
Existing research has, however, identified a range of risks associated with social media, including:
- concerns about excessive time spent online;
- sharing too much information;
- being cyber-bullied;
- the influence of social media on body image; and
- sourcing of harmful content or advice, such as websites or social networks enabling the promotion of self-harm.
- Over a third (37.3 per cent) of UK 15 year olds are ‘extreme internet users’ (defined by the OECD as a student who uses the internet for more than six hours outside of school on a typical weekend day). This is substantially higher than the OECD average. The only OECD country with higher levels of extreme internet use than the UK was Chile.
- Nearly a third (27.6 per cent) of young people in the UK were 6 years old or younger when they first used the internet. This is younger than the OECD average.
- Young people in the UK are extensive users of social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. 94.8 per cent of 15 year olds in the UK used social media before or after school in 2015. 11 per cent of UK 10 to 15 year old girls and 5 per cent of boys spent over three hours on social media on a normal school day in 2012-13.
- This online activity is increasingly private, with young people using the internet in their bedrooms or on a smartphone. In 2014, over half (56 per cent) of UK 9 to 16 year olds used smart-phone on a daily basis. The rise in popularity of instant messaging means that online discussions are now often held in private groups, rather than on public profiles.
- The changing pace of technology, such as the recent development of livestreaming, means that the way young people interact with social media is continuing to change.
There is, as yet, no scientific consensus on the impact of screen-based lifestyles on the mental health of young people. More research is needed on the positive and negative influences of social media on young people’s mental health. There is also limited research on effective interventions to address online risk, for example interventions to prevent or reduce cyber-bullying among young people.
The evidence explored in this report indicates that, while restricting access to the internet may reduce the likelihood of young people experiencing online risk, it also restricts the opportunities for young people to develop digital skills and to build resilience.
You can download the EPI report here.