How social media provides ‘lifeline’ to teens during COVID

'Students are far more likely to say social media makes feel better rather than worse,' researcher says
By: | March 17, 2021
(AbodeStock/Darren Baker)(AbodeStock/Darren Baker)

Social media has given teens crucial ways to connect during COVID, even despite the spread of hate speech and other negative content, new research shows.

In fact, many teens—particularly students in the LGBTQ+ community and those dealing with depression, have found supportive online peers while cut off from face-to-face contact with friends, according to Common Sense Media’s “Coping With COVID-19” report.

“They’re looking for a just-in-time someone-like-me who can help them navigate the paths in front of them,” says the report’s co-author Susannah Fox, a health and information technology researcher and principal of Internet Geologist LLC.

Students are also using the internet and social media to find health information, particularly on COVID, depression and anxiety. Students surveyed in the report also reported increased use of apps to learn to meditate, and manage sleep and depression.

More from DA: What is digital self-harm, and is it be on rise?

“Many young people who are experiencing depression, whatever the cause, are purposefully and proactively using social media to help address their own mental well-being,” said co-author, Victoria Rideout, whose firm, VJR Consulting, researches children and media.

“Students are far more likely to say social media makes feel better rather than worse,” Rideout added.

Still, a substantial number of students, even those who reported finding inspiration and support online, said they have also encountered a “tremendous amount” of hate speech, including homophobic, racist and sexist content, she said.

Ultimately, social media can provide students with affirmation they may not be getting from family members, added Danielle Ramo, the senior director of research at Hopelab, which develops tech solutions to support student well-being.

Here are some other findings from the Common Sense social media survey:

  • Nearly four in 10 (38%) teens and young adults reported moderate to severe depression, a substantial increase from 25% just two years ago.
  • 43% of all 14- to 22-year-old social media users say that when they feel depressed, stressed, or anxious, using social media usually
    makes them feel better, compared to just 17% who say it makes them feel worse.
  • Among those with moderate to severe depressive symptoms, 29% say social media is “very”important for getting inspiration from other and 28% say it’s “very”important for feeling less alone.
  • About half (53%) of young people said social media has been “very” important to them during the pandemic for staying connected to friends and family.
  • About a third said it has been “very” important for keeping informed about current events and learning how to protect themselves against COVID.
  • Those who said that they or a family member contracted COVID were more likely than their peers to consider social media “very” important in keeping up with current events and learning how to protect themselves.
  • Health topics  young people researched most frequently include COVID-19 (58%), fitness (47%), anxiety (42%), stress (39%), and depression (38%).
  • About one in four 14- to 22-year-olds say they “often” encounter body shaming (29%), racist (27%), sexist (26%), or homophobic (23%) comments on social media.

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