A recent article published in Science Direct looked at the association between social media use and mental health among adolescents. The impact of social media on mental health is certainly not a new topic. Neil Petersen wrote about envy as a mediator of mental illness among social network users, how social media affects life satisfaction among teens, and how social media negatively impacts memory as we age, among others. This study zeroed in on several factors associated with adolescent mental health and use of social media.
The authors of the study explored the interactions of age, self-esteem, social media use, and online self-presentation behaviors among 152 adolescents aged 11 to 18. Not surprisingly, social media use was found to be a common behavior among the study participants, with 90% reporting use of at least one social platform. They argue that understanding how adolescents' self-concept is related to social media usage will help guide counselors and teachers who work with this population.
Their results showed several significant relationships. The strongest was an association between social media use and social comparison orientation, suggesting that those who use social media more frequently tend to be more focused on how they compare with others. And this holds true both inside social media and other areas of life. Inverse relationships with between social media usage and self-esteem and between social media usage and the presentation of a consistent self were also found. Interestingly, those who had the most consistent self-presentation on social media also reported the highest self-esteem. This suggests that being ourselves online and high self-esteem offline are directly related. The authors didn't study causation so it isn't clear how they impact each other, only that they tends to move in the same direction (e.g., the more genuine the higher self-esteem).
While this study found that increased social media use was related to lower self-esteem and higher self-comparison, other research is demonstrating the positive aspects of social media usage. A 2022 study in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology calls social media a tool and a tyrant. The authors agree with the previous study that higher social media usage is associated with poorer mental health. However, they counter that how we use social media matters a great deal. They found that regardless of time spent on social media, outcomes of usage were more positive when they helped the user achieve personal goals and needs.
Together, these studies, like others prior, suggest that social media usage can have both negative and positive effects on our mental health. Less goal directed social media usage is related to lower self-worth but when social media is used with purpose, the impact of usage appears to be more positive. Intent and outcome of usage seems to be the key to the quality of the experience.
The key takeaway from this research is that social media usage is related to positive mental health like increased self-esteem, healthier social comparisons. Replication studies and interventions are needed to better understand these relationship. Like any technology, social media can be a positive social tool and a destructive tyrant. Which one is up to us.
Mann, R. B. & Blumberg, F. (2022). Adolescents and social media: The effects of frequency of use, self-presentation, social comparison, and self esteem on possible self imagery. Acta Psychologica, 228, 103629. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2022.103629
van Zoonen, W., Treem, J. W., & ter Hoeven, C. L. (2022). A tool and a tyrant: Social media and well-being in organizational contexts. Current Opinion in Psychology, 45, 101300. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2022.101300