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Introduction to adolescent mental health
Introduction to adolescent mental health

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2.2 Understanding the impact of social media on a young person’s identity

New research can help us to understand the complex ways in which young people engage with the online world as part of their everyday lives. For example, the internet and social media use can serve as a means of self-interpretation, allowing young people to conduct ongoing ‘identity work’. These digital technologies can make it possible for us to create ‘multiple selves’ or ‘multiple identities’ allowing young people to transform themselves. In addition, it can allow young people to connect with other people who are like them.

Activity 7: Understanding the impact of the internet on identity

The young people who are growing up today where born into a world were the internet and social media already existed. In their book on the subject, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser described them as being ‘Born Digital’ and suggested this had a fundamental impact on how their identity was formed. One of the key messages from the book is that it is not always possible for those of us who grew up in a time pre the internet or social media to fully connect with the integrated nature of the digital identities that many young people have these days. But it is important for us to recognise that, as with most things in life, there are both positive and negative consequences.

Watch this video which illustrates well the complex relationship some young people have with social media.

Video 7: Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences (The Open University is not responsible for external content.)
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

As you will see from the word cloud (Figure 4), individual reflections on social media and the ways in which young people use it can vary from our own. From this video and from the extracts of interviews with young men it is clear that we should be careful about buying into the notion that all social media is bad for young people. Instead, we need to move towards an understanding of how and why young people engage with various social media networks.

An illustration of a word cloud with the words such as confusing, complicated, conflicted, communication, less lonely, racist comments, sexist comments, bullying, rude language, somebody to talk to.
Figure 4