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Kids who are active on social media are just as active offline

It’s a common concern among parents: the impact of social media on the lives of children and teens. Many worry that these digital interactions might replace or damage real-life social skills and connections.

However, recent findings suggest that these fears may be unfounded. In fact, kids who are active on social media are also actively engaging in social activities offline.

More offline activity among social media users

A recent study led by Silje Steinsbekk, a professor in the Department of Psychology at NTNU, challenges the prevailing notions about social media use among youth.

“On the contrary, we find that people who use social media a lot spend more time with friends offline,” said Professor Steinsbekk.

This observation stems from a comprehensive analysis carried out as part of the Trondheim Early Secure Study, which tracked around 800 young individuals over key developmental ages at 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 years old.

Significance of the study

“Throughout childhood and adolescence, social skills develop in interaction with the social environment, including parents, family, and friends. While not long ago, such interactions solely took place face-to-face, teens now spend an average of almost 4 h daily on social media like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat,” wrote the study authors. 

“However, questions remain as to how social media use affects the development of social skills, which is important to know given the beneficial outcomes of such skills and the drawbacks of lacking them in terms of mental health, academic achievement, coping, and self-esteem.”

“On the one hand, it has been argued that social media interactions provide fewer affordances to practice social skills, thus negatively impacting the development of such skills. On the other hand, it has been hypothesized that social media may constitute an additional arena for social interaction, potentially promoting social skills via more opportunities to interact.” 

“This study is the first to examine the validity of these contrasting hypotheses. In addition, it investigates whether increased.”

Social media enhances, not hinders, social engagement

The research team delved into critical a question: Does more time on social media affect children’s social skills and their real-world interactions with peers?

The results were conclusive. “Social media is a new arena for social interaction. We found no evidence to support the notion that social media hampers the development of social skills,” said Professor Steinsbekk.

The study further demonstrated that children who are frequently active online often spend several evenings a week socializing with their friends in person.

Complex aspects of social media use

While the study provides reassurance, it also highlights the more complex aspects of social media use. The research indicated that children with social anxiety might be especially susceptible to the adverse effects of extensive use.

“This correlation was weak, so we are reluctant to draw strong conclusions until more research has been done,” said Professor Steinsbekk.

The research serves as an important reminder of the complexity of how social media interacts with mental health.

Interestingly, the study also pointed to potential benefits of social media, such as increased closeness in friendships, the formation of new friendships, and the strengthening of existing ones.

These positive aspects could explain why more socially active children also engage more offline.

Rapidly evolving nature of technology

The study concludes on a cautiously optimistic note. “We hope the findings can help reduce parents’ concerns somewhat,” said Professor Silje Steinsbekk.

However, she also emphasizes the rapidly evolving nature of technology and its challenges for research. This underscores the need for ongoing study to keep pace with technological advances and their implications for young users.

The insights from this study are critical not just for understanding the social dynamics of today’s youth but also for guiding future research and policy.

“Social media has created a new social landscape for adolescents. Knowledge is needed on how this landscape shapes adolescents’ social skills and time spent with friends, as these outcomes are important to mental health and psychosocial functioning,” wrote the researchers.

As we navigate this ever-changing digital landscape, it is crucial to stay informed about the real effects of our online behaviors on offline relationships. While the digital age poses new challenges, it also offers new avenues for connection and social growth.

The study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.


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