This is the age-old question we have been wanting the answer to since the rise of social media platforms since the early 2000s. We’ve all heard from our parents that being on our phones too much, especially on social media platforms, are going to rot our brains and turn it into mush. So… how much truth is there to that actually?
I have the answer for you! Well… not really. The answer is not clear cut and dry just like many things, but here is the deal. Social media has taken our generation by a storm and there hasn’t been time to fully understand its effects through empirical scientific research. But based on the data we have so far there seems to be no clear relationship between social media and well-being - there are so many things that affect it such as the type of use, demographics and what they are interacting with on social media.
Most research that has been published on this topic suggests that active use of social media is more beneficial than passive use; with active use being defined as interacting with social media posts such as commenting and liking posts vs passive using as more mindless scrolling without interactions (Przybylski & Weinstein, 2012; Thorisdottir et al., 2019). The explanation proposed for this is that active social media use helps facilitate social interactions, just as it has maintained us connected during this pandemic, and increases well-being. Another factor that makes it hard to definitively say whether social media is positive is individual differences - many studies actually found that the relationship between social media and well-being was very much related to the differences between the subjects (Pouwels et al., 2021).
So in conclusion… we don’t really know for sure
But as the best advice goes - everything in moderation.
Some ways that can help to maintain reasonable social use has been using various productivity apps such as “forest” to prevent me from checking my phone when getting work done and/or setting up screen time limits for social media apps through iphone settings. But it is also important to remember not to be too hung up over screen times and beating yourself up for not being able to keep a screen time limit as this can do more harm than good.
For parents: the best advice is to keep the conversation open between you and your child when discussing social media and possible issues that may arise through social media use. Studies have shown that children that can have more open conversations about negative social media effects such as cyber bullying have a better outcome in the future and are actually associated with less incidences of cyberbullying (Shapka & Law, 2013).
Written By Sue Rim Baek