Can social media be used as a tool to help improve wellbeing in young people?

We have known for many years now the links between socialising, positive relationships, good health and wellbeing. It is a fundamental part of being human. We need to feel connected to others to feel safe and practice the exploration of self-identity; and never has this connectivity been more accessible than since the invention of the internet. However, this doesn’t come without risks and some are sceptical as to the benefits. They believe that it could put our young people in danger and in the long-run it will do more harm than good. Fears of cyberbullying are of particular concern and a cause for great anxiety among the general public.

social media keyboard

Not for Drs’ Edwards and Wang though; in the following study: Strangers are friends I haven’t met yet: a positive approach to young people’s use of social media, they look more positively at the impact the use of various social media tools can have on young people when used as a way of building and maintaining close relationships. Quantitative data is collected through surveys and analysed to establish how various (8) social media platforms are used in terms of relationship maintenance strategies. However, the findings do not necessarily represent generalisable trends, a much larger scale study would be needed instead, its purpose is to guide subsequent qualitative explorations. Although not focussing specifically on wellbeing, the study suggests that the use of these social media tools by young people is primarily to,

“support and protect those with whom relationships have been carefully established,” and, “to provide them with a challenging space to practice identity and relationship management strategies,”

All of which are vital to protecting wellbeing in a culture where self-identity is managed within an increasingly complex network of social relationships for which online communities can support this process and also a sense of belonging.

socialmedia-teens3

To achieve a positive state of wellbeing young people must feel safe, connected and supported by those around them, especially those who they feel closest to. Prior to common use of the internet and social media, social settings in which this happened were face-to-face in groups or one-to-one. School sites however, can be unnatural settings in which relationships and young peoples’ identities are managed in the context of social hierarchies and sometimes in response to peer pressures. The use of phatic technology, or communications (social) technology used for the purpose of relationship building, via various social media platforms appear to allow young people to do much the same but in an environment where exploring identities feels safer as they are able to gauge the response of their peers before committing themselves to a particular identity and seek out those who are like-minded. The eight various social media platforms in this study appear to be able to provide young people with an online community in which bonding and self-expression may be practiced safely and without fear of judgement, therefore supporting the building of a community which could positively affect the wellbeing on young people in the long-term. However, further studies are required to measure the impact.

Victoria Wang & Simon Edwards (2016) Strangers are friends I haven't met yet: a positive approach to young people's use of social media, Journal of Youth Studies, 19:9, 1204-1219