New study: social media may not harm teenagers’ well-being

A new piece of research using Understanding Society data suggests that social media use might not be harming teenagers’ well-being.

The paper highlights that the effects of social media on teenagers’ life satisfaction are small and subtle – and that their well-being affects their use of social media, as well as social media affecting their well-being. Knowing how much social media a teenager uses cannot, on its own, predict what a teenager’s level of life satisfaction will be one year later.

The research, by Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski, of the Oxford Internet Institute based at the University of Oxford, and Tobias Dienlin, from the Department of Media Psychology at the University of Hohenheim, was published in the journal PNAS in May.

Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski also published a study in Nature Human Behaviour in January comparing another longitudinal dataset – the Millennium Cohort Study – with two large datasets from the United States. This research shows that more screen time was associated with lower well-being – but that it could only explain 0.4% of the difference in well-being.

Amy Orben says, “So many young people are using digital technology now that it has led to speculation that regular use might have a negative impact on psychological well-being. We did find an association between digital technology use and adolescent well-being, but it was very small. Wearing glasses had a larger negative association with well-being than technology use did, for example. We want to see more research in this area, but what we know now doesn’t suggest that any policy change is needed to ‘protect’ teenagers.”

Read the research in PNAS and Nature Human Behaviour