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The impact of Internet communication on adolescent social development is of considerable importance to health professionals, parents and teachers. Online social networking and instant messaging programs are popular utilities amongst a generation of techno-savvy youth. Although these utilities provide varied methods of communication, their social benefits are still in question. This study examined the relationship between online social interaction, perceived social support, self-esteem and psychological distress amongst teens. A total of 400 participants (M(age) = 14.31 years) completed an online survey consisting of parametric and non-parametric measures. No significant relationship was found between online interaction and social support. Time spent interacting online was negatively correlated with self-esteem and psychological distress. While previous research has focused on young adults, this study examines the impact of online social networking on emerging teens. It highlights the need for continued caution in the acceptance of these utilities.
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Online Social Networking Amongst Teens:
Friend or Foe?
Bridianne O’DEAa,1 and Andrew CAMPBELLa
a The University of Sydney, Australia
Abstract. The impact of Internet communication on adolescent social
development is of considerable importance to health professionals, parents and
teachers. Online social networking and instant messaging programs are popular
utilities amongst a generation of techno-savvy youth. Although these utilities
provide varied methods of communication, their social benefits are still in question.
This study examined the relationship between online social interaction, perceived
social support, self-esteem and psychological distress amongst teens. A total of
400 participants (Mage = 14.31 years) completed an online survey consisting of
parametric and non-parametric measures. No significant relationship was found
between online interaction and social support. Time spent interacting online was
negatively correlated with self-esteem and psychological distress. While previous
research has focused on young adults, this study examines the impact of online
social networking on emerging teens. It highlights the need for continued caution
in the acceptance of these utilities.
Keywords. adolescents, online social networking, psychological wellbeing
Introduction
With over 500 million users connecting every day, online social networks are
transforming the nature and process of human relationships. Traditional social
interaction is now replicated online as a result of increased Internet access, particularly
amongst youth. The Internet has come to represent not only an informational tool, but
also a space where teens can offer and receive support [1]. Online social networking
sites (SNS) such as Facebook and MySpace have vastly augmented the ability of
individuals to interact, regardless of demographic or geographic restrictions [2]. The
popularity of these utilities, combined with their ability to bridge offline and online
connections, creates a unique context for exploring the changing nature of adolescent
socialization and the implications for their wellbeing.
In adults, recent studies have demonstrated that online social networking does not
lead to closer emotional relationships offline [3]. It has also been found that time spent
on SNS is not related to individual wellbeing [4], or an increase in social network size
[5]. Whilst SNS develop social capital [6] and encourage self-disclosure [7], these
utilities also provide a space for negative interactions. Declining or ignoring friend
1 Corresponding Author: Bridianne O’Dea, Faculty of Health Sciences, Cumberland Campus, The
University of Sydney, Australia; E-mail: bridianne.odea@sydney.edu.au.
Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine 2011
B.K. Wiederhold et al. (Eds.)
IOS Press, 2011
© 2011 The Interactive Media Institute and IOS Press. All rights reserved.
doi:10.3233/978-1-60750-766-6-133
133
requests and ranking the importance of friends through site applications were found to
be detrimental to offline relationships [8]. Interpersonal relationships may also be
subjected to increased jealousy and distrust as a result of SNS activity [9]. These
findings highlight both positive and negative experiences associated with the use of
online SNS.
With previous research focusing on young adults and above (18+), little is known
about the impact of online social interaction on younger teens (13-16). Adolescent self-
esteem can be affected by the tone of feedback received from online social profiles [10].
However, the effect on social support is unknown. Adolescence is a crucial
developmental phase where meaningful friendships begin to emerge. Teens experiment
with various social behaviors and experience different emotional responses than those
of older adolescents and adults [11]. The aim of this study is to explore the effect of
online interaction on social support, self-esteem and psychological distress amongst
emerging adolescents. It was hypothesised that online social interaction would have no
effect on social support, but would be negatively correlated with self-esteem and
psychological distress.
1. Method
1.1. Sample and Procedure
A total of 400 participants (54.8% female; Mage= 14.31 years, SD = 1.16 years)
completed an online survey under the supervision of a researcher. Some questions were
relevant to only a subsample, therefore n varies for different analyses. The study
received ethics approval from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics
committee.
In this sample, 76.8% of participants (n = 181) had private access to the Internet.
The home was the main location of Internet access (80.3%) and there was an average of
2.88 (SD: 1.60) computers in each household. A total of 73.7% rarely or never asked
for their parent’s permission before accessing the Internet.
1.2. Measures
The online survey consisted of three psychometric measures including the
Multidimensional Scale for Perceived Social Support (MSPSS) [12], Self-Esteem scale
[13] and the K6 for psychological distress (K6) [14]. It also included questions relating
to Internet use and activity. The MSPSS is a 12-item scale that divides into three scores
relating to the source of social support including family, friends and significant other. It
is answered on a seven-point scale ranging from very strongly disagree (1) to very
strongly agree (7). Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem questionnaire is a uni-dimensional, self-
reported scale. Consisting of 10 items, questions are answered on a four-point scale
ranging from “strongly agree” (3) to “strongly disagree” (0). The K6 scale was used to
B.O’Dea and A.Campbell / Online Social Networking Amongst Teens: Friend or Foe?134
measure how frequently (during that past 30 days) participants experienced symptoms
of non-specific psychological distress. Using a five-point scale, answers range from
“all of the time” (1) to “none of the time” (5).
2. Results
Table 1 shows the psychometric properties of the self-reported outcome measures.
Table 1. Psychometric Properties of the Self-reported Outcome Measures.
Variable
n
M
SD
á
Range
Skew
Potential Actual
MSPSS
Family
Friend
Sig. O ther
Tot al
Self-Esteem
Psychological Distress
377
377
377
377
371
370
21.17
21.58
21.87
64.62
19.04
22.52
6.00
5.60
5.89
15.37
4.91
4.74
.91
.92
.92
.94
.85
.85
4-28
4-28
4-28
12-84
0-30
6-30
4-28
4-28
4-28
12-84
0-30
6-30
-1. 16
-1. 35
-1. 34
-1. 50
-.259
-.818
As some variables were heavily skewed, Mann Whitney-U tests were used to
compare males and females in their psychometric scores. Females reported
significantly higher social support from significant others (M: 22.92, SD: 5.35)
compared to males (M: 20.54, SD: 6.27) [p < .001]. Females also reported significantly
higher levels of social support from friends (M: 22.86, SD: 4.57) compared to males
(M: 19.98, SD: 6.33) [p <.001]. Males reported significantly higher levels of self-
esteem (M: 20.06, SD: 4.86) [p <.001] and lower levels of psychological distress (M:
23.06, SD: 5.03) [p <.05]. Significant positive correlations were found between MSPSS
total, self-esteem (rs = .343, n = 370, p <.001) and psychological distress (rs = .358, n =
370, p <.001). Significant positive correlations were also found between self-esteem
and psychological distress (rs = .622, n = 370, p <.001).
3. Internet Use and Online Social Networking
Participants used the Internet for an average of 2.53 (SD: 1.85) hours per day; 83.8% of
participants rated their ability to use the Internet as “good or excellent.” Online social
networking (n = 198) was ranked as the most popular Internet function alongside
information searching (n = 144) and IM programs (n = 116). Educational programs
were the least used function of the Internet (n = 8).
A total of 72.5% (n = 290) of participants reported using SNS. Amongst these
users, Facebook was the most popular with 97.5% using this utility. On a typical day,
participants visited their site up to 2.75 (SD: 3.94) times and spent an average of 63.39
(SD: 58.37) minutes networking. The primary use of SNS was keeping in contact with
local friends (58.7%). Wall posts were the most popular function (29.9%) followed by
B.O’Dea and A.Campbell / Online Social Networking Amongst Teens: Friend or Foe? 135
chat (19.6%), status updates (13.5%), and photo viewing (12.8%). Without SNS, 66.5%
said they wouldn’t know less about their friends and 63.7% said they wouldn’t have
less contact.
When asked about their privacy settings, 75.5% had their profile on private or
limited, 11% had a public profile, and 13.5% were unsure of their privacy settings.
When asked how often unknown friend requests were accepted, 13.5% reported always,
37.7% sometimes, and 48.7% rarely or never. A total of 75.8% of participants said they
would be uncomfortable with strangers accessing their site. The majority of
participants (88.6%) had parental acknowledgement to use these sites, however, 6.8%
did not know what their parents thought.
Users of online SNS (M: 21.39, SD: 5.63) reported significantly lower levels of
social support from their family than non-users (M: 22.53, SD: 6.23) [p = .017]. There
were no significant differences in other independent variables.
A significant negative correlation was found between time spent on SNS and self-
esteem (rs = -.146, n = 281, p <.05), as well as psychological distress (rs = -.139, n =
281, p < .05). A significant negative correlation was also found between SNS visits and
MSPSS for family (rs = -.129, n = 280, p <.05). As shown in Table 2, multiple
regression analysis was used to assess the ability of SNS time to predict levels of self-
esteem. Of the 290 participants who used SNS, 96% answered questions relating to
time spent on SNS, visits to SNS, MSPSS, self-esteem and psychological distress.
Time spent on SNS and MSPSS were found to be the only significant predictors of
self-esteem (R2 = .087, F (2, 278) = 13.259, p < .001).
Table 2. Predictors of Self-Esteem.
Variable B SE B _ 95% CI
Constant 161.299 15.815
[
130.166 , 192.433
]
MSPSS .253 * .056 .258 [.142 , .363]
SNS time -.188 * * .073 -.147 [-.332 , -.044]
R
2
.087
F 13.259
Note 1: N = 281 CI = Confidence Interval. *p < .001 ** p < .05
Note 2: Distress was not entered as a predictor due to colinearity
Note 3: The same variables also predict distress (R2 = .096, F (2, 278) = 14.736, p < .001).
4. Discussion
This study examined the use of online social networking in young adolescents. In
particular, we focused on the relationship between self-esteem, psychological distress
and time spent on SNS. Similar to past research, a high percentage of participants used
SNS regularly. Unlike older users who may engage in SNS to “social search” for old
friends and re-connect relations [15], participants in this study used SNS to interact
with local friends that they see regularly. Despite frequent use, participants did not
perceive online communication to be necessary to their social life [16]. Participants did
B.O’Dea and A.Campbell / Online Social Networking Amongst Teens: Friend or Foe?136
not rely on SNS for development of friendships, but instead viewed SNS as an
alternative method to mobile and face-to-face communication.
The results of this study identified a significant link between self-esteem,
psychological distress and the use of SNS. Past research has found that self-esteem can
be enhanced or decreased according to the nature of feedback received on social
network profiles and how much time one spends on their own profile [17, 18]. As
results identified time on SNS as a predictive variable for self-esteem, participants of
this age may experience higher instances of negative feedback when compared to older
users of SNS. This age group may spend more time browsing other individuals’
profiles rather than spending time on their own. As the opportunity for feedback is
minimal in this process, interaction with SNS may become detrimental to self-esteem.
Future studies would benefit from focusing on the nature of feedback received by teens
of this age and through what function of SNS it is received.
As research in this area is divided, it cannot be definitively shown that teens with
low self-esteem and high distress seek out Internet interaction more often than their
peers. Instead, the results of this study justify further research into the causal
relationship between Internet interaction and lower psychological wellbeing [19].
Amongst children, Internet use is associated with social problems when it is used for
communicative purposes [20]. Research has also found that frequent online
communication by teens is positively related to compulsive Internet use within six
months [21]. This indicates that the nature of Internet use, independent of user
characteristics, may determine the psychological impact of Internet interaction.
This study highlights the contribution of social Internet use to the psychological
wellbeing of young adolescents. Results suggest that spending large amounts of time
online for social purposes may increase psychological distress and have a negative
impact on self-esteem. However, this is an exploratory study. It is limited by the use of
a convenience sample. Future research would benefit from incorporating teens with
varied cultural backgrounds and different levels of education. In an age where
technology has become omnipresent in the social lives of young people, this study
emphasizes the need for serious consideration towards the unregulated use of online
social utilities amongst teens.
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... It is an interactive media source which allows young people to keep in contact and share information (Moreno, 2010). The information from the literature search shows that many adolescents interact with their social networking sites at least an hour a day; and it is a number one activity for teens (O'Dea, & Campbell, 2011). According to O'Dea et.al (2011), the most frequently used forms of online communication are: updating one's own profile, commenting on photos or other post, posting public messages to others or wall style messages, social networking instant messaging; while the reading and writing of blogs remains in the top ten online activities carried out by teens. ...
... According to O'Dea et.al (2011), the most frequently used forms of online communication are: updating one's own profile, commenting on photos or other post, posting public messages to others or wall style messages, social networking instant messaging; while the reading and writing of blogs remains in the top ten online activities carried out by teens. Twitter and Facebook and Instagram represent a highly utilized forum for cyber bullying (Walker, 2015;O'Dea et al. 2011). ...
... In a study examining the mental health effects of social media use among adolescents, Sampsa-Kanyinga and Lewis (2015) found that self-reported social media use of more than two hours per day was associated with increased levels of psychological distress. Similarly, O'Dea and Campbell (2011), found a significant relationship between self-reported time spent using social media and psychological distress. These findings are consistent with previous research indicating a positive relationship between Facebook interaction and psychological distress (Chen and Lee, 2013). ...
... The far majority of past findings reporting an association between psychological distress (e.g. anxiety and depression), with social media use have relied on self-report (Bettman et al., 2020;Keles et al., 2020;Marino et al., 2018;O'Dea and Campbell, 2011;Primack and Escobar-Viera, 2017;Rosen et al., 2013;Sampasa-Kanyinga and Lewis, 2015). Recent research has also noted that relationships between attention control and related emotion factors may be inflated when relying on self-report measures of attention control that show little relationship to behavioural attention control measures, like the antisaccade task utilised in the current study (Todd et al., 2022). ...
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