Social media use and social connectedness among adolescents in the United Kingdom: a qualitative exploration of displacement and stimulation

Lizzy Winstone*, Becky Mars, Claire M A Haworth, Judi Kidger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Connectedness to family and peers is a key determinant of adolescent mental health. Existing research examining associations between social media use and social connectedness has been largely quantitative and has focused primarily on loneliness, or on specific aspects of peer relationships. In this qualitative study we use the displacement hypothesis and the stimulation hypothesis as competing theoretical lenses through which we examine the complex relationship between social media use and feelings of connectedness to family and peers.

METHODS: In-depth paired and individual interviews were conducted with twenty-four 13-14-year-olds in two inner-city English secondary schools. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded and thematically analysed.

RESULTS: Analysis identified four themes: (i) 'Displacement of face-to-face socialising' (ii) 'Social obligations' (iii) '(Mis)Trust' and (iv) 'Personal and group identity'. Results indicated stronger support for the stimulation hypothesis than the displacement hypothesis. We found evidence of a complex set of reciprocal and circular relationships between social media use and connectedness consistent with a 'rich-get-richer' and a 'poor-get-poorer' effect for family and peer connectedness - and a 'poor-get-richer' effect in peer connectedness for those who find face-to-face interactions difficult.

CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that parents should take a measured approach to social media use, providing clear guidance, promoting trust and responsible time management, and acknowledging the role of social media in making connections. Understanding and sharing in online experiences is likely to promote social connectedness. Supporting young people to negotiate breathing space in online interactions and prioritising trust over availability in peer relationships may optimise the role of social media in promoting peer connectedness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1736
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Public Health
Volume21
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021. The Author(s).

Keywords

  • Social media
  • social connectedness
  • adolescence
  • peer relationships
  • family relationships

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