Impacts of Social Media and Technology on Adolescent Development

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Impacts of Social Media and Technology on Adolescent Development

An Explanation of the Potential Impacts of Social Media and Technology on Adolescent Development

Adolescence is a life phase of tremendous change – biological, psychological, as well as social and teens must learn to adjust to their emerging bodies and needs (Christie, & Viner, 2005) as well as formulate an identity.

Teenagers are faced with the challenging task of adjusting to their newly found sexuality, becoming independent and autonomous and develop closely knit relationships with peers and romantic partners (Adams & Berzonsky, 2003). During this multifaceted process, peers become increasingly influential (Johnson & Aries, 1983) and social media or technology appears to play a crucial role in shaping the personality, behavior and worldview of young individuals. Additionally, adults seem to be less favored by adolescents during this phase (Dr. Scott; Laureate, 2013) which makes the interaction with parents more taxing. However, parental monitoring and demandingness is necessary, as it has been correlated with higher levels of self-discipline and achievement (Baumrind, 1971, 1978, 1991). Research also suggests that adolescents use the great majority of their time within online spaces (e.g. bulletin boards, chat rooms, blogs, and instant messaging) in order to deal with certain issues in their lives such as sexuality (Suzuki & Calzo, 2004), identity (Subrahmanyam, Smahel, & Greenfield, 2006), and partner selection (Smahel & Subrahmanyam, 2007).

Developmental, Environmental and Social Influences

Moreover, Hewlett and West (1998) term our culture ‘poisonous’ due to the threatening economic forces that undermine family stability and the negative media influences that shape attitudes and beliefs. Research has focused on investigating the social learning principles that individuals rely on in order to understand their environments or construct ideas, beliefs, and guiding principles (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

A longitudinal study on Canadian teenagers by Willoughby, Adachi, & Good (2012) found evidence for this model and concluded that there is a strong correlation between playing violent video games and later aggression for both genders. Also, it has been found that the causal relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior and cognitions transcends across cultures (Anderson, Shibuya, Swing, Bushman, Sakamoto et al., 2010). Players of violent games have been found to interact with the game psychologically and emotionally while their deep involvement in the game results in antisocial effects on the player (Anderson, Shibuya, Swing, Bushman, Sakamoto et al.). Hence, video games act an active learning agent and content seems to matter (Anderson et al., 2010, p.171). Furthermore, the strong link of violent videogames and aggression is supported by the American military’s regime to desensitize new recruits to wars and killings by exposing them to variants of first-person shooter video games (Strasburger, 2010). Additionally, parents need to refrain from exposing their children to PG-13 and R-rated movies that contain a lot of violence as the experience can be scary and anxiety provoking (Strasburger). Therefore, the exposure to violence through media, social media and video gaming can affect the development of the adolescent’s personality.

Likewise, teenagers are significantly influenced by the sexual messages and attitudes portrayed in the media. Strouse, Goodwin, & Roscoe (1994) found a relationship between frequent viewing of televised portrayals of sexuality and more distorted cognitions, more liberal attitudes about sex, and higher tolerance rates of sexual harassment. In the absence of effective sex education in the USA or parental guidance, the media have become the sex educator of young children and adolescents; children and youngsters learn important ideas about sex and sexuality from the media (Strasburger). Moreover, higher frequency of media exposure to sexualized media has been linked to increased sexual behavior with a higher number of sexual partners as well as an earlier sexual initiation (Brown et al, 2002). Media appears to be normalizing sexual behavior and early initiation in teenagers perception and contributes to the adolescents thought pattern of ‘everybody is doing it’ and therefore I should also do it. Adolescent medicine experts explain that the best way to influence teenagers to adopt a certain behavior is to make it seem like everyone is doing it (Strasburger) and this technique could be used in order to guide teenagers to approach sexuality in a responsible manner.

Additionally, various press reports claim that the excessive use of online social networking sites (SNSs) can be addictive (Kuss & Griffiths, 2011). Teenagers and young adults often engage in activities such as Facebook (FB), online gaming, and online chat rooms that lead to experiencing symptoms of addiction (i.e. social networking addiction disorder) such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences tolerance, and concealing the addictive behavior (Young, 2009). It has been claimed that individuals addicted to SNSs exhibit symptoms similar to people suffering from substance addictions (Echeburua & deCoral, 2010). In their study Pelling and White (2010) identified as high-level users the teenage students who were using SNSs at least four times a day. They also found that addictive tendencies were correlated with self-identity and belongingness. Therefore, students who identified themselves as SNSs users and were searching for a sense of belonging on SNSs; were at higher risk of developing SNSs addiction. Another study by Karaiskos, Tzavellas, Balta, and Paparigopoulos (2010) reported the case of a young woman with an extreme FB addiction (5 hours everyday) who experienced severe life disruption; she lost her job due to her FB preoccupation, developed anxiety disorder and insomnia.

Furthermore, research claims that 55% to 82% of teenagers and young adults are regular users of SNSs (Kuss & Griffiths, 2011) and the number has risen in recent years. Also, some gender differences in the way teenagers use the Internet have been found. Young females use SNS in order to communicate with their friends while males use it for social compensation, learning, and social identity (Barker, 2009). Moreover, males with neurotic traits have been found to be more likely than their female counterparts to develop an addiction to SNS gaming (Zhou, 2010). A link between high-level SNS usage and low-self esteem has been highlighted which consequently leads to low wellbeing (Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten, 2006). Finally, excessive SNS usage seems to affect the academic performance of teenagers. High levels of FB users had lower grades, devoted less time to studying, were distracted, procrastinated and had poor time-management (Kirscher & Karpinski, 2010).

To sum up, the report by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (1996) describes accurately the current phenomenon of adolescents engagement with social media and technology: (social media and media) have become strong competitors to the traditional societal institutions in shaping young people’s attitudes and values. The contemporary social media and technology trend is unlikely to be reversed. Society, teachers, parents and helpers need to focus on educating young children and teenagers on their adverse effects on their cognitive, emotional and educational evolution. Parental monitoring regarding the quality of the internet material as well as the hours devoted in SNS activities is imperative in order to protect our youth from ‘playing their lives away’.


Broderick, P., C. & Blewitt, P. (2015). The life span: Human development for helping professionals. New Jersey: Pearson.
Kuss, D. J. & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29(4), 68-71.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2013i). Perspectives: The adolescent world [Video file]. Retrieved from
Reich, S. M., Subrahmanyan, K., & Espinoza, G. (2012). Friending, IMing, and hanging out face-to-face: Overlap in adolescents’ online and offline social networks. Developmental Psychology, 48(2), 356-368.
Stausburger, V. (2010). Children, adolescents, and the media: Seven key issues. Pediatric Annals, 39(9), 556-564.
By |July 20th, 2016|Children, Family, Social Media|0 Comments

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About the Author:

Becoming a psychotherapist was a decision I made early on in life during my late childhood years. It was almost as if I did not have a choice. My true interest in the emotional wellbeing of the people in my environment and my motivation to assist them find solutions to significant life issues, combined with the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction when people found inner peace, made my studies in psychology a necessity.

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