Social Media: How (some) use can be good for teenagers

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Sasha, Katie and Ruby have been close friends since elementary school

Sasha, Katie and Ruby have been friends since elementary school. They went through secondary school together and spend much of their free time in each other’s company.

Like other teenagers, communicating through social media comes naturally to them. But does this add to their friendship or detract from it?

New research has produced some welcome news for kids and parents, many of whom are concerned about the amount of screen time young people are getting.

Image source, Cardiff University

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dr Rebecca Anthony is hoping to delve deeper into the nuances of using social media

“They found there was a small but significant association between time spent online and depressive symptoms, but one review came out and said we don’t really look at the nuances of social media,” she said.

“We used the survey to see who young people interact with and how long they spend online.”

And for once, there was good news about screen time.

Better wellbeing was found to be associated with those who spent their time online speaking to their close and larger group of friends they already knew offline.

dr Anthony said there was a “very clear message” that spending time online with people the teens didn’t know was linked to “much worse well-being” and was stronger for teenage girls who only message people online sent.

The research may provide some welcome news after another survey found that teenagers in Wales had been doing less sport and spending more time in front of a screen during the pandemic, with almost a quarter suffering from negative mental health symptoms. [insert link to Ben Price story]

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But how can the research of Dr. Anthony transferred to the experiences of the three friends?

Image source, Getty Images

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Most children have a phone by the time they enter high school

The trio, now all 14 or 15, started using mobile phones in their final year of primary school and initially only used WhatsApp to communicate with their closer friends.

This expanded after they moved into high school, when a larger number of people formed messaging groups.

Sasha said: “Regarding WhatsApp, I honestly think I’ve used it more [back then] because everyone just got a phone and all the group chats were exploding all the time.”

The girls indicated that they found this app generally positive since they had settled into secondary school.

As they got older, different apps started to take over.

Ruby said: “The thing people got addicted to on their phones was TikTok, but the way people talked to each other was Snapchat and Instagram.

“There’s more drama and stuff on Snapchat and Instagram. People get into fights and it affects our lives more.”

The girls agreed that Snapchat was the main method of communication for larger groups, but for their own, more intimate group of friends, they resort to WhatsApp.

“It’s Always There”

Ruby said that while texting her close friends from home in the evenings is generally a positive experience, sometimes “leaving her a negative feeling when she was in other group chats, even when nothing bad happened.”

Ultimately, do they believe that technology has improved both their friendship and their happiness?

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Katie said: “I think so, because if you’re feeling really sad or bored or something, it’s always there.

“If you’re feeling really happy about something, now you can tell them, and it will improve your feelings and bring you more joy.”

Sasha described it as a “consolation” that there’s always someone to reach out to, even when it comes to resolving a dispute.

“You can text and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that,’ whereas if you didn’t have that, you’d just have to sit there and think about it,” she said.

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Evie Kwan can see the benefits of being online, but is equally wary of the downsides

Evie Kwan, 17, is a Welsh Youth Parliament Representative from Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan and has an interest in mental health.

She said being able to reach out to people “to ask how they’re doing and if they need a chat or something face-to-face” is valuable.

“However, when it comes to things like loneliness, that constant flow of knowing what everyone is doing if they’re texting you all the time, it’s like a whole different world.”

She added, “Not participating in those chats on social media apps can make you feel isolated and lonely.”

Image source, Internet Matters

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dr Linda Papadopoulos compares screen time to one of your five-a-day vegetables

for dr Linda Papadopoulos, psychologist and ambassador for online safety organization Internet Matters, says the most important thing parents can do is find out what their kids are doing.

“Notice how your kids are interacting online and how it makes them feel the same way they do about anything β€” they’re starting a new club, they’re starting a new school,” she said.

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“Has your child gone from being outspoken and cheerful to being very, very withdrawn?

She uses the analogy of the five-a-day fruit and vegetable health message.

β€œIt’s wonderful that I connect with my friends online. But if that’s all I do, that’s a problem.

“It’s a vegetable. The other veg is, did you have a play date? Did you go out? have you moved

dr Anthony said she was surprised at how “switched on” some teens were with self-control, including turning off notifications when they were doing homework.

The girls seem to have figured that out for themselves when it comes to talking online.

“As long as you’re able to control your boundaries, it’s positive,” Katie said.

Ruby added, “There will be people who are addicted to social media and then it will be negative, but for people who can use it in moderation it will always be positive.”