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New Research Looks at How Social Media Affects Adolescents' Body Image

February 24, 2021

Teen girl uses phone while putting on makeup February 24, 2021

A recently published journal article explores social media’s role in influencing adolescents' attitudes toward body image.

Early Adolescent Social Media-Related Body Dissatisfaction: Associations with Depressive Symptoms, Social Anxiety, Peers, and Celebrities

February 24, 2021

journal development behavioral pediatricsIt is critical to examine the powerful socializing effects of networked media on early adolescents, who are at an age when social media use, body self-consciousness, and social comparisons are at their peak.

In this study, the researchers used two subsamples from a larger survey sample of 700 middle school students in the Northeast U.S. They conducted a cross-sectional pilot survey using brief, descriptive body dissatisfaction measures directly related to social media use.

Within this subsample, 19% of participants reported dissatisfaction with their bodies. Their most common concerns around body image included not being thin enough or attractive enough, and feeling dissatisfied with their body shape, hair, and face. 

Those reporting social media-related body dissatisfaction checked their social media more frequently. When compared with those who did not feel negatively about their body image because of social media, those who did had higher rates of depressive symptoms, had online social anxiety, had found it harder to make new friends, and were more socially isolated. Those who followed celebrities checked social media more frequently and were more likely to have depressive symptoms and online social anxiety.

The researchers concluded that there may be negative socioemotional health consequences for early adolescent social media users who are exposed to particular sources of social media content, such as photographs of celebrities.

Some of these research findings are also represented in an infographic.

This research was funded by Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Additional support provided by NIH (K23 MH 107714-01 A1) and the Mary Ann Tynan Faculty Fellowship, as well as the Class of 1967 Internship Program at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

Accents: Promoting Healthy Social Media Use

Student on a phone in bedFebruary 19, 2021

WCW Senior Research Scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., is featured in Accents discussing teens and technology during COVID-19.

Linda Charmaraman Appointed Forbes Ignite Scientific Advisor

December 15, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. December 15, 2020

Senior Research Scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., has been appointed as Forbes Ignite’s new Scientific Advisor.

FORBESIGNITE: Dr. Linda Charmaraman

Child sitting with phone in bedDecember 10, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., discusses her research on the Forbes Ignite podcast, Inner Wealth.

Study Examines the Role of Pets in Adolescents’ Online Social Interactions

November 25, 2020

03 teen girl phone dog webA journal article co-authored by Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., explores how pets can act as either a substitute or a complement to social interactions online.

Quantity, Content, and Context Matter: Associations Among Social Technology Use and Sleep Habits in Early Adolescents

November 18, 2020

journal of adolescent health

This article investigates associations of social technology access and content, bedtime behaviors, parental phone restrictions, and timing and duration of sleep on school nights in early adolescents.

Dr. Charmaraman, Richer, Dr. Ben-Joseph, and Dr. Klerman surveyed 772 6-8th grade students from four schools in the Northeast U.S. between February and June 2019. The survey asked questions about social media, internet, and phone use, content of websites and social media posts, behaviors within one hour of bedtime, bedtime, sleep duration, and phone/screen restrictions put in place by parents. 

Controlling for potential confounding factors such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, two-parent household, and eligibility for free or reduced price lunch, the researchers found that more frequently engaging in checking social media, problematic internet behaviors, fear of missing out (FoMO), problematic digital technology use, and watching more emotional or violent videos were significantly related to later bedtimes and fewer hours of sleep on a typical school night. Participants who acknowledged losing sleep because they couldn’t quit online activities went to bed later and slept less. Seeing posts related to a thin ideal weight was significantly associated with reduced sleep, and seeing messages related to drugs/drinking was significantly related to later bedtimes. Watching YouTube videos before sleep was related to later bedtimes and reduced sleep; checking social media before bed was related to later bedtimes. Reading books was the only bedtime behavior associated with an earlier bedtime.

Documenting bedtime habits and specifics of online content that negatively affect sleep outcomes can be initial steps when designing interventions for parents and practitioners to encourage healthier social technology use.

The study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with support from Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development to pilot the measures and procedures that lead to the subsequent NIH funding. The study was conducted by the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab.

Findings from the Social Media Use, Health, and Parental Monitoring Study

November 5, 2020

Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab

November 5, 2020

The Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab shares findings from a study of middle school students' social media use.

Medical Xpress: Quantity, content, and context of social media use may affect adolescents' sleep

A young girl is looking at a mobile phone in bed. November 3, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., of WCW and the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab is quoted in this article describing her new study on adolescent sleep and bedtime technology habits.

Quantity, content, and context of social media use may affect adolescents’ sleep

November 2, 2020

Teen lays in bed and looks at phone November 2, 2020

A new study finds that the quantity of social technology use, type of content viewed, and social context is significantly related to later bedtimes and less sleep for early adolescents.

Infographic: Gender Differences in Civic Engagement

October 30, 2020

civic engagement icons

Following the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab surveyed adults in the U.S. to participate in the Media and Identity Study. Findings from the survey indicated gender differences in civic engagement. Women were more likely than men to leverage in-person networks in their civic engagement through volunteering to help their community, talking to a child or teen, participating in a public event, or volunteering for a candidate.

The 2018 survey was completed by a total of 731 people. The respondents were:

  • 60% female, 37% male, and 3% described as transgender or another gender.
  • A third were located in the Northeast, 28% were from the South, 26% were from the West, and 13% were located in the Midwest of the U.S.
  • 73% were White, 11% were Asian, 6% were Black, 4% were Hispanic, 4% Biracial, and 2% were Native American.
  • Most completed college or more (72%), 21% completed some college and 7% finished high school.
  • 58% reported working full-time, 18% were working part-time, 8% were looking for work, 2% were unable to work, 3% were caregivers, 12% were students, 5% were retired and 2% had another employment status.

The Role of Pet Companionship in Online and Offline Social Interactions in Adolescence

October 14, 2020

child and adolescent social work journal

This journal article examines associations between adolescents’ relationships with their pets and their social media use. It is the first study to explore links between owning pets, online social competence, and social technology use, particularly focused on how pets can act as either a substitute or a complement to social interactions online. 

Dr. Charmaraman, Dr. Mueller, and Richer analyzed a sample of 700 middle school students aged 11–16 in the Northeast, looking at how pet companionship is associated with social technology use and the quality of online social connections. 

They found that adolescents who have dogs were more likely to check social media more frequently, give and receive online social support, and feel less social isolation. The more time spent with a pet, the more likely the adolescent played online games for leisure and browsed the internet about animals. And the more attached the adolescent was to their pet, the more likely they provided and received online social support.  

Together, these exploratory findings show that on the whole, pet owners are not necessarily equal in how they use social technologies. Factors such as the amount of time spent, the type of pet, and the level of attachment to the pet all come into play. But the more attached an adolescent is to a pet, the more likely they will have a developmentally appropriate, strong sense of and respect for a reciprocal online relationship with others and greater sense of community and connectedness to others in their online worlds.

This work was funded by Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development and the Nan May Holstein New Horizons Award from the Wellesley Centers for Women. The study was conducted by the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab.


VeryWellHealth: Dogs Significantly Improve Teens' Social Development, New Research Finds

Girl with dogOctober 14, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., of WCW and the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab was mentioned in this article that describes the links between pet ownership and teen social development.

Lifewire: Why is Facebook Going Back to College?

A student sitting at a deskSeptember 24, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., of WCW is quoted in this article discussing Facebook in the time of COVID-19 as it relates to incoming college students.

WCW Hosts Workshop for Middle Schoolers on STEM, Digital Wellbeing, and Identity

August 20, 2020

Gitanjali Rao speaks to students during the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab virtual summer workshop August 20, 2020

The Wellesley Centers for Women teamed up with the Wellesley College Computer Science Department to host a virtual workshop that helped adolescents explore their identities, introduced them to STEM concepts, and taught them about healthy social media use.

Education Dive: Navigating cyberbullying more difficult amid COVID-19, but there are options

three students posing in front of computersAugust 7, 2020

Senior Research Scientst Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., spoke with Education Dive about the positive ways middle schoolers have been using social media during COVID-19.

Webinar Links Remote Learning, Social Technology, and Social and Emotional Learning

July 31, 2020

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, Linda Charmaraman, and Sarah Wong July 31, 2020

Two programs of the Wellesley Centers for Women collaborated to host a webinar that explored the roles of social technology and SEL in remote learning.

Social and Behavioral Health Factors Associated with Violent and Mature Gaming in Early Adolescence

July 29, 2020

international journal of environmental research and public healthThis journal article outlines findings from two studies of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women. In these two studies, Dr. Charmaraman, Richer, and Dr. Moreno sought to understand the association between playing violent or age-inappropriate online games and behavioral health outcomes for early adolescents. To that end, they surveyed two different groups of middle school students in the northeast U.S. who represented a range of school sizes, races and ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses about their gaming behaviors, health, and social media use

The first study showed that middle school students who played high-risk games – as measured by maturity and violence level – reported higher depressive symptoms and problematic internet behaviors, less sleep, more time spent playing games, and higher frequency of checking social media than non-gaming students. Those who played high-risk games were less likely to play alone and to play with strangers than those who played minimal-risk games. 

Similar to the first study, the second study showed that those who played high-risk games spent significantly more time playing games, were more interactive with other players, and had poorer sleep outcomes than non-high-risk gamers. Additionally, playing high-risk games had significantly different social impacts compared to less-risky gaming, including spending more money on games, spending less time on homework and with family, or skipping meals due to gaming. 

The content of video games and the amount of online social interaction associated with gaming play a strong role in behavioral health and social impacts within families. These results can inform guidelines to intervene when problematic behaviors emerge.

Now Recruiting Middle School Students for Virtual Summer Workshop on STEM/Digital Wellbeing

July 13, 2020

middle school student uses laptop during summer workshop on digital wellbeing July 13, 2020

The Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab is looking for middle school students to participate in a free summer learning program that begins July 27.

Constantly Connected: The Social Media Lives of Teens

July 6, 2020

Teen boys look at phone

July 6, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., presented on a virtual panel hosted by Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.

When Social Distancing Collides with Social Media

June 4, 2020

Teenage girl sits on couch and stares at smartphone screenLinda Charmaraman, Ph.D., shares tips for parents wondering how to help their children maintain a healthy relationship with social media during isolation.

Bay State Parent: When social distancing collides with social media

Teenage Girls with CellphoneMay 21, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., comments on the positive and negative impacts social media use can have during COVID-19.

Q&A with Student Research Assistant Katie Du

May 14, 2020

Katie Du, undergraduate student research assistant May 14, 2020

Undergraduate student research assistant Katie Du reflects on her work with our Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab, and her experience as an international student at Wellesley during a pandemic.

Infographic: Social Media Literacy

May 12, 2020

In a mixed method study, our Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab surveyed 229 school staff members and 419 parents from 4 school districts in the Northeast about adolescent social media use. Of these participants, they interviewed a subsample of 30 parents and 6 school staff to examine their perspectives on their roles in supporting healthy internet and social media use as well as the topics they most frequently discussed with teens. This infographic highlights the three most frequently discussed topics amongst parents and the three most frequently discussed topics amongst educators (including, teachers/asst teachers, counselors, librarians, administrators) when it comes to teen social media use.

The researchers analyzed parent and staff survey and interview responses and found that the top three topics discussed among the two groups differ. The analysis revealed that school staff frequently discussed with their students the impacts of screen addictions and to have empathy for others online while parents focused more on how the negative influences of screens can harm their child through "stranger danger"

Adolescent Mental Health Challenges in the Digital World

May 7, 2020

charmaraman book chapterThere have been dramatic changes in internet access, mobile phone use, and social media activity over the past few decades. How has this increased online exposure affected adolescents' mental health? This chapter provides an insightful in-depth discussion of the existing evidence examining associations between mental health and technology use including depression, anxiety, body dissatisfaction, attention-deficit disorders (and risks of distraction), and addictive behaviors as well as the impacts of risky online communities on adolescents' mental health, focusing on networks promoting pro-eating disorder behaviors and pro-suicidality. Helpful recommendations for parents, educators, and providers are included in each section.

Your Teen Magazine: There is Plenty to be Gained from Social Media for Middle Schoolers

Dr. Linda Charmaraman is interviewed by Your Teen MagazineApril 17, 2020

Dr. Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., discusses the positive and negative impact of teen and tween social media use during COVID-19 in a video interview with Your Teen Magazine.

Infographic: Who Are Middle Schoolers Following on Instagram?

April 7, 2020

Our Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab, surveyed 700 students aged 11 to 16 on their social media use, their mental health, and how they were influenced by peers. Survey results showed that 54 percent of students who reported social media-related body dissatisfaction said celebrity photos triggered those feelings. To better understand how celebrity Instagram posts might influence youth, researchers did an in-depth analysis of the Instagram accounts used by 18 students from the initial 700-student sample. This infographic highlights findings from the analysis of students' Instagram habits. 

The researchers analyzed who the 18 students followed on Instagram, noting the numbers of celebrities and non-celebrities followed. The analysis revealed that the students followed up to 2,150 Instagram accounts. Of those, students followed up to 154 celebrity accounts. When looking at the data by gender, researchers noted that boys followed, on average, 160 more Instagram accounts than girls. However, girls, on average, followed 5 times more celebrities than boys. 

The study was funded by Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, with additional support provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Mary Ann Tynan Faculty Fellowship to Dr. Liu, as well as the Class of 1967 Internship Program at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

Insider: How Social Media Affects The Mental Health of Teenagers

Teens on phonesMarch 18, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., and her research is quoted in this article on the impact of social media on the health of teens.

The Week: The Truth About Tweens and Screens

February 21, 2020

Senior research scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., shares her insight on the different ways kids engage with and feel the effects of social media.

Infographic: YouTube Turns 15

February 13, 2020

YouTube is turning 15, but many of its users are much younger than that. Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women and director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab, surveyed over 1,000 students in grades 5-9 from October through December 2019. This infographic shows what those students told her about their YouTube viewing habits.

Forty percent of the students said YouTube was their favorite social media site, and 50 percent said watching YouTube videos was the number one activity they did before going to bed three or more nights per week.

Adolescent Development in an Age of Social Media

January 29, 2020

Special issue of Journal of Adolescent Research January 29, 2020

Senior Research Scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., served as a guest editor for a special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Research focused on adolescent and emerging adult development in an age of social media.

Wired: I Monitor My Teens' Electronics, and You Should Too

January 27, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab discusses the evidence for parental monitoring of online and mobile content and associated positive outcomes.

Adolescent and Emerging Adult Development in an Age of Social Media

January 15, 2020

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., senior research scientist, co-authored an introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Research that provides specific insight into young people's experiences with networked technologies, as well as broader methodological implications for research on digital youth. The collective focus of the issue comes at a critical time as it tries to capitalize on increased interest in funding for studies conducted to improve adolescents' and emerging adults' socially interconnected lives, which could lead to practical implications for educational and health care practices, parenting, policy and technology design.

Baystate Parent: Should You Buy Your Tween a Smartphone? An expert weighs in

Teenage Girls With CellphoneDecember 18, 2019

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., senior research scientist, discusses some of the important factors parents should consider when thinking about purchasing a cell phone for their tweens.

New York Post: Why Teens Shoot Video of Violence Instead of Helping

September 19, 2019

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab, discusses the causes of a growing phenomenon: teens’ failure to act in situations of violence.

Youth perspectives on sexuality communication with parents and extended family

September 11, 2019


To explore extended‐family sexuality communication and compare it with parent sexuality communication.


Family communication about sex can protect teens from sexual risk behavior. However, most studies on this topic focus exclusively on the parent–teen dyad; few capture the broader context of teens' family communication.


Using a mixed‐methods approach, a convenience sample of 22 teens from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds were interviewed. Participants were asked to identify family members with whom they talk about sex and relationships, topics discussed, messages shared, and the teens' comfort talking about sex and relationships. Thematic analysis was used to explore participants' shared meanings and experiences.


Eighty‐six percent of teens reported talking with both parents and extended family about sex. Teens were more likely to report that parents than extended family shared messages about delaying sex and avoiding teen pregnancy and gave advice or shared information about sex. Teens were more likely to view extended family than parents as easy to talk with and as having shared life experiences, and some reported avoiding talk with parents about issues related to sexuality due to feeling awkward or fearing a negative reaction.


Extended family may play a somewhat different role than parents in teens' sexuality communication, but family members showed a largely common set of family values.


Extended family may be a valuable teen resource for sexuality communication, particularly when teens feel uncomfortable talking with parents.


Asian American social media use: From cyber dependence to cyber harassment to saving face

September 11, 2019

Nationally representative studies have found significant racial differences in social media use; however, most of these investigations do not disaggregate Asian American findings due to the relatively small proportion of Asian Americans in representative samples. Most purposive studies specifically about Asian social media use have been conducted in Asian countries and have used primarily quantitative methods. Using a sequential explanatory mixed-method design, we analyze data from a large (N = 1,872) purposive online survey of adolescents and emerging adults aged 18"

Wellesley College: Wellesley Centers for Women Partners with Local Middle School to Promote Healthy Social Media Use

August 19, 2019

Senior research scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., helps teach middle schoolers about social media’s impact on their lives and healthy ways to use it.

WCW Partners with Local Middle School to Promote Healthy Social Media Use

July 29, 2019

middle school age kids work on laptopJuly 29, 2019

Dr. Linda Charmaraman turned her research into action when she co-led a workshop teaching middle schoolers to use social media in healthy ways.

How Fortnite Affects Teen Health

January 30, 2019

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D.

January 30, 2019

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., discusses the effects of online video game Fortnite on teen health and wellbeing.

NIH Awards Wellesley Centers for Women Funding to Promote Undergraduate Research

October 17, 2018

Sabina Unni, Stephanie Cobas, Linda Charmaraman, Cynthia Serrano NajeraOctober 17, 2018

NIH awarded WCW $450,000 over three years to study social media use of early adolescents while providing Wellesley College students with hands-on research opportunities.

Children and Screens: Digital Media and Developing Minds Conference

October 15, 2018

children and screens logo brightest 1October 15 - 18, 2018

A collection of recordings from the Digital Media and Developing Minds Conference. 

This is How Middle School Students Use Social Media

September 6, 2018

Linda Charmaraman, Jennifer Grossman, and Megan Moreno

September 6, 2018

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., and Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., both of the Wellesley Centers for Women, and their colleague Megan Moreno, M.D., of the University of Wisconsin, discuss young adolescents’ use of social media.

Escaping from Worries or Facing Reality: A Survey Study of Adolescent Attitudes about Sexist and Homophobic Stereotypes in Mainstream US Media

December 11, 2017

We examined the influences of being exposed to gender and sexual orientation stereotypes in the media on US-based adolescents aged 12-18. Departing from wishful identification theory, our study allows adolescents to report how TV characters resemble them, rather than whom they emulate, coming from a place of agency. We recruited 639 participants (85% female, 82% heterosexual) to take an online survey. Our findings demonstrated that girls and sexual minorities were less likely to see their gender and sexual orientation reflected in favorite TV characters. Girls and sexual minorities felt more personally affected by stereotypes about women and girls and were more likely to believe that sexism and homophobia needed to be addressed in the media. Across all groups, those who tend to escape their worries through watching television reported feeling more upset at TV content and being more personally affected by negative stereotypes centered on women, girls, and sexual minorities.

Digital Life and Youth Well-being, Social Connectedness, Empathy, and Narcissism

December 11, 2017

Youth well-being, social connectedness, and personality traits, such as empathy and narcissism, are at the crux of concerns often raised about the impacts of digital life. Understanding known impacts, and research gaps, in these areas is an important first step toward supporting media use that contributes positively to youth's happiness, life satisfaction, and prosocial attitudes and behaviors. By examining existing work addressing these issues across domains, we found that a complex interplay of individual factors, type of digital media engagement, and experiences in media contexts informs outcomes related to well-being, social connectedness, empathy, and narcissism. We argue that further research is needed to uncover how, where, when, and for whom digital media practices support positive well-being and social connectedness outcomes. Specifically, research needs to move beyond correlational studies to uncover causal connections between traits like narcissism and media use. Longitudinal studies are also needed to explore patterns of media use over time and related impacts. Further research is needed to explore how specific technologies can be designed to support positive well-being, social outcomes, and prosocial personality traits. Finally, research is needed regarding parenting, educational practices, and policies that support positive digital media use and related outcomes. Although existing research suggests that digital life has mixed potentials and effects for well-being, social connectedness, empathy, and narcissism, we provide recommendations for clinicians, policy makers, and educators in partnering with caregivers and youth to support media use that promotes positive outcomes in these areas.

Media and Identity Study – Next Steps

March 11, 2016

Linda Charmaraman

March 11, 2016

In this video, Dr. Linda Charmaraman discusses where the Media and Identity Study is headed, and what issues she is hoping to understand through the study's results.

  • 1
  • 2



Examining the complex factors that determine a young person’s identity, including their race, gender, sexuality, political and socio-economic status.

Mainstream Media


Examining the effects of the media messages that youth receive across their screens, magazine pages, and the airwaves.

Social Media


Understanding engagement with social media, the struggles and opportunities that families and schools encounter, implications for health and wellbeing, and adolescent’s own autonomy.

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