Previous research on the relationship between social media use and well-being in adolescents has yielded inconsistent results. We addressed this issue by examining the association between various digital media activities, including a new and differentiated measure of social media use, and well-being (internalizing symptoms) in adolescent boys and girls.
The sample was drawn from the four cross-sectional surveys from the Öckerö project (2016–2019) in eight municipalities in southern Sweden, consisting of 3957 adolescents in year 7 of compulsory education, aged 12–13. We measured the following digital media activities: playing games and three different activities of social media use (chatting, online sociability, and self-presentation). Our outcome measure was internalizing symptoms. Hypotheses were tested with linear regression analysis.
Social media use and playing games were positively associated with internalizing symptoms. The effect of social media use was conditional on gender, indicating that social media use was only associated with internalizing symptoms for girls. Of the social media activities, only chatting and self-presentation (posting information about themselves) were positively associated with internalizing symptoms. Self-presentation was associated with internalizing symptoms only for girls.
Our study shows the importance of research going beyond studying the time spent on social media to examine how different kinds of social media activities are associated with well-being. Consistent with research in psychology, our results suggest that young girls posting information about themselves (i.e. self-presentation) might be especially vulnerable to display internalizing symptoms.