It’s said that every generation comes with habits that are loathed by the adults of that generation. The youth of the ‘70s had too much synth-heavy rock. Those too-loud-too-punk kids in the ‘80s played too many video games. Young adults today are relentlessly judged for their use of a seemingly far worse source of entertainment: social media.
Dr. Sarah M. Coyne, professor in the School of Family Life, conducted a six-year study examining the patterns of time spent on social media to see how adolescent lives are affected by the quantity of use. The 457 Participants in the study were from various upbringings, ethnicity, income, and family structure. All were aged 10-14 to begin in order to observe them throughout adolescence. To be true to the purpose of the study, examining differential patterns of social media time use throughout adolescence into early adulthood, the research team focused specifically on time, disregarding content, spent on Social Networking Sites (SNS), such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Yearly, each participant would answer a series of questions offering information about their habits and behaviors. At the end of the study, depression, aggression, and delinquency were assessed. Coyne found that the participants naturally sorted, as predicted, into three groups: Increasers, Peak Users, and Stable Users. The Increasers had the worst mental health outcomes than any of the other groups. To be considered an Increaser, the participants had a moderate amount of social media usage at the beginning of the study that stayed moderate through the halfway point then skyrocketed towards the end of the six-year period. Sadly, these people experienced aggressive behavior, both physically and in relationships, leading to cyberbullying, delinquency, and an increased likelihood for addictive and problematic behavior.
The majority of participants, however, categorized as Stable. Stable use participants had a fixed, moderate usage of SNSs over the years of the study. When used moderately, the study found that social media is a normative part of growing up in the digital world (Coyne, Walker, Holmgren, & Stockdale, 2018). Much like the music and hangout spots of the ‘70s and ‘80s, SNSs provide new ways for youth to interact with their peers, make new friends, participate in adolescent culture, and exert age appropriate independence (Coyne, et al., 2018).
Social media has been getting a bad rap, but studies like these show that the addictiveness of SNS depends on everyone’s own ability to self-regulate time spent online. Though at its worst it can lead to forlorn situations, social media is hardly as bad as rock music was in the eyes of moms and dads of the ‘70s. While it may be wrapped in different packaging, youth of any generation are simply looking to connect to the time and to each other.