Ongoing since 2017

Principal Investigators: Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. Research Scientist, Wellesley Centers for Women and Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, Academic Division Chief of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine Division, Vice Chair of Digital Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Project Staff: Ineke Ceder, Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., Amanda Richer, Lisette DeSouza, Ph.D

Undergraduate research assistants: Rebecca Leu ’19 and Nimo Suleyman ‘20

Funded by: Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development

This project will focus on how parents and peers influence social media use of young adolescents and the related health affects.

The primary aim of this research study is to describe early social media initiation among middle school students and their use of social media and technology. We would like to know more about why adolescents start using social media, how often they use them and why. How is an adolescent’s background associated with time of initiation of these media technologies and their use? How does parental monitoring influence teen use and initiation? How do peer and school norms influence use and initiation?

Secondly, we hope to identify how psychosocial and behavioral health are associated with social media and technology use. Among 10-14 year olds, is there a relationship between psychosocial health markers, like anxiety or depression, and technology use? With early social media initiation, is there an increase in the risk of negative behavioral health outcomes, such as sleep deprivation, reduced physical activity, substance use, early sexual activity? Are there certain aspects of media and technology use that co-occur specifically with particular health issues; for example, how do frequency of use, type of media used, types of content posted or viewed affect young adolescents’ health? We seek to understand the full spectrum of early social media use, including the much publicized negative impacts such as cyberbullying and invasion of privacy, as well as the potential benefits, such as exposure to positive role models, informative posts, and supportive interactions.

This study will use a mixed method approach through (a) an online survey of students (grades 5-8, aged 10-15) in elementary and middle schools; (b) online survey of a subsample of parents; and (c) social media content review at up to 3 time points of a subsample of selected youth, representing different demographic and social media use and initiation characteristics.

Many parents and school staff grapple with these issues while not much research has addressed the early stages of social media and technology use, with research focusing primarily on college-aged populations. In fact, the federally mandated age minimum of 13 years for social media initiation was set by the Federal Trade Commission’s need to protect children from commercial interest and collection of their personal data without their knowledge. This federally mandated age limit guided Facebook’s and Snapchat’s registration age of 13 years old, but is not based on actual psychological or developmental health research. This empirical study will provide scientific evidence on health and behavior impact, rather than market, policy, or industry-based restrictions.

In short, this study will be able to inform health care providers, school staff, parents, and even federal government regulators about the impact of early social media access on health and behavior, and how to respond accordingly to the risks and benefits social media and technology bring to our youngest adolescents.

This work is the pilot study for a larger proposed study that will follow adolescents over time to monitor changes in their psychosocial and behavioral health patterns through middle school, high school, and beyond.

Contact Us
If your middle school is interested in being a participant in this ongoing study OR in receiving the results of our study, please contact Alyssa Manning Gramajo at amannin5@wellesley[dot]edu for more information.

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