Role of Media in Adolescent Development

The hypermodern civilization's social, scientific, and cultural concern about the role of media in its daily lives is mainly based on the fact that the ordinary media experience has altered considerably. Unlike previous generations of children and adolescents who grew up with fragmented, selective media exposure, the hypermodern individual of the new millennium is born, nurtured, and lives as a digital or media native, growing up with media as a daily and intuitive experience. Nonetheless, there is a continuing environment of public worry about the topic of media influences, which appears to mirror wider concerns about society's future course.

What is Adolescence Development?

Adolescence, or the period between the ages of 12 and 19, is known for its rocky and unpredictable changes that affect all realms of one's personhood. This is an age marked by rapid physical development and a striving to establish the semblance of an identity. It is a period where a person has an overwhelming need to be accepted by peers and makes frantic attempts to gain emotional validation.

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson has described the primary conflict of adolescence as being centered around identity. The adolescent, freshly individuating from their parental figures, seeks to be seen as a unique societal being. This identity crisis dominates the teenage period and is often the motivator for a person's pursuit of mastery and excellence in a field. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (US DHSS) elucidates the need for development to take place holistically in an adolescent. This includes development in physicality, cognition, emotion, and social orientation. We will examine further how modern media derails individuals from the path of healthy development.


Raskin and Terry, the researchers behind the development of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, defined narcissism as "a grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness; a preoccupation with power, beauty, or ideal love; exhibitionism; interpersonal exploitativeness, relationships that alternate between extremes of over-idealization and devaluation; and a lack of empathy." A study by Nachon and colleagues in 2022 found a significant relationship between social media use and narcissism. This can be attributed to social networking sites reinforcing a sense of self-importance, where a person is encouraged to seek validation through likes and follows.

Narcissism is associated with high levels of anxiety as it involves the person being hypervigilant about their image among people. There is also often a facade of superficiality manufactured to cultivate emotional validation from external sources. Person uniqueness, a sub facet of narcissism, has also been correlated with depression and suicidal ideations among adolescents, according to a study by Aalsma and colleagues in 2006.


Rosenberg has defined self-esteem as one's positive or negative attitude toward oneself and the overall evaluation of one's thoughts and feelings about oneself. In a 2021 study, Steinbeck discovered that other-oriented social media use, including liking and commenting on others' posts, was associated with lower appearance self-esteem in adolescent girls. These results do not exist in isolation, as multiple other studies, such as the one by Valkenberg and colleagues in 2021, found similar results. It is often only in cases of self-oriented social media use, such as posting one's pictures, etc., that there is an increase in self-esteem.

Interpersonal Relationships

It is inarguable that social media has altered the way adolescents navigate relationships in their lives. A study by Blias and colleagues in 2008 found mixed results related to the relational pragmatics of social media. It found that social media increased the connectedness and companionship between its users. However, such a result was found in relationships that already existed in a person's life. Communication with strangers in chat rooms increased feelings of isolation and dejection and decreased companionship. It was also found that gaming or overindulgence in online entertainment negatively impacted the quality of one's relationships. Perceived social support has also emerged as a strong predictor of the quality of interpersonal relationships in the adolescent population. A study by Frison and colleagues claimed that "high levels of perceived friend support offered protection against developing depressive symptoms or low life satisfaction after being victimized via Facebook."

Identity Development

It may appear that the buffer provided by social media between oneself and the physical world would facilitate interpersonal interaction in people suffering from identity-related anxiety, but our findings contradict this commonsense assumption. It has been found that diffuse-avoidant identity processing, which is situationally based and dependent on social approval, is associated with less identity clarity and a more fragile sense of self.

Researchers have also found that victims of cyberbullying have lower self-esteem than those who were not victimized online. The complex long-term effects of cyberbullying victimization were found to enforce negative cognitive schemas, resulting in negative body image and a negative view of oneself, resulting in depression. Calvete, in 2016 found a link between the negative impact on body image and depression that was greater for females than males, which was believed to be due to gender socialization related to the importance of physical appearance.

Mental Health and Wellbeing

There have been mixed findings when one looks into the literature exploring the relationship between social media use and general mental health and well-being. Studies inquiring about the relationship between symptoms of depression and anxiety found that peer relationships played a big role as a mediating factor in how such symptoms showed up. Peer relationship stress increases the tendency for poor mental health in adolescents. In terms of well-being, which included the constructs of happiness and life satisfaction, studies like the ones conducted by Booker and Twenge in 2015 and 2018, respectively, found that adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens were less happy, were less satisfied with their lives, and had lower self-esteem.

Protective Factors

Perceived social support and the presence of peer support have emerged as protective factors against the negative mental health effects of social media use. Twenge has also found that moderate social media use is associated with mildly positive mental health and happiness. Valkenburg and Peter have also commented upon the anonymous nature of online interaction and how online communication creates a safe space that facilitates online self-disclosure.


Modern media has posed several challenges for a growing adolescent and has made navigating the nuances of pre-adult life more complex. On the one hand, vast literature supports a bleak picture where social media use goes hand-in-hand with poor mental health. However, on the other hand, there are obvious benefits in the ability to connect and converse with peers even without their physical presence.

Updated on: 02-May-2023


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