While social media use among youth has also been associated with some negative impacts such as increased risks of cyberbullying, social comparison and reducedsleep, researchers have also found many potential benefits of social media use for youth:
Social media allows youth to connect with peers and maintain existing friendships: One of the biggest benefits of social media is that it makes it easy for youth to stay connected with their friends even when they are physically separated. Various studies have found that social media helps strengthen both close friendships and larger online social networks of youth. It allows them to share updates about their daily lives, inside jokes, thoughts and feelings with their peer group. This ongoing social connectedness through social platforms is positively correlated with youth’s well-being and life satisfaction scores.
Social media expands social networks of youth: Beyond existing friends, social media platforms also give youth an opportunity to interact with a much larger network of peers who share their interests or are part of the same community through groups, pages and followings. This expanded social network exposes youth to a variety of perspectives and experiences which can help them learn social skills while connecting with like-minded individuals. For example, research shows that youth who are part of fandoms and interest-based communities on social media report higher self-esteem.
Social media boosts civic and political engagement of youth: Various studies have found positive links between social media use and youth’s civic and political engagement. For instance, researchers have found that youth who actively discuss social and political issues on social media are more likely to participate in online and offline political activities such as signing petitions, contacting representatives and even participating in protests or marches in the future. Social platforms give youth a chance to easily stay informed about issues in their community and voice support for causes they care about.
Social media supports identity exploration and development: Adolescence is a period when youth deeply explore and solidify their identities. Researchers have found that social media platforms allow youth to experiment with identities, explore their interests and reflect on ‘who they are’ through profiles, bios, pictures, opinions shared, groups joined and pages followed. This identity work benefits their psychosocial development. One study found that youth who engaged more in identity expression on social media had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction scores on average. Expression of authentic identities is important for youth well-being.
Social media enhances creativity of youth: Besides identity exploration, various researchers argue that active participation on social platforms significantly boosts youth’s creativity. For instance, youth produce user-generated content such as memes, digital artwork, videos, blogs, podcasts etc. that require creativity. Learning new digital skills to produce such content is positively associated with creative skills development and growth mindset in youth. Researchers also find that youth who share their creative works on social media report confidence in their abilities and interests in creative pursuits. Creativity fosters several emotional and intellectual benefits in youth.
Social media makes learning more engaging and collaborative: Education experts also argue that when used properly under guidance, social media enhances engagement, collaboration and motivation in formal learning among youth. For instance, classroom pages and groups on Facebook or projects involving media production encourage co-creation and peer learning. Hashtag challenges are positively linked to improved topic understanding. Online discussions allow shy students to participate more. Such collaborative learning experienced on social media carry over to classrooms and support youth development of 21st century skills such as critical thinking, communication and digital literacy.
Though social media use also comes with risks that should not be understated, research evidence increasingly highlights the significant benefits it provides youth in terms of social connectedness, identity exploration, information access, civic participation, creativity and collaborative learning when used judiciously under guidance. These positive effects aid crucial areas of youth development like well-being, self-esteem, communication abilities and future success. Sensible social media habits from a young age can set youth on a path of reaping maximum benefits while minimizing risks from such platforms.