This paper looks at the relationship between “excessive” screen time (e.g., social media and video games) and teen self-esteem relative to “disconnection” and traditional inequalities (e.g., gender) and well-established predictors of well-being (e.g., academic performance). We find that social media use does not displace (it supports) in person contact, and that disconnection (poor home access, or heavy parental control) has a larger negative relationship to self-esteem than heavy use of any digital media. There is a good summary of the article available here and a video news story with an interesting take. The full article is available with open access from the Social Science Computer Review.
Some argue that social media use displaces time that adolescents spend with friends and family and is therefore associated with lower psychological well-being. They reason that young people who experience “disconnection,” because their parents actively restrict media use, or they have limited material access to the Internet, are better protected from psychological harm. Prior research has misspecified and exaggerated the magnitude of the relationship between screen time and adolescent psychological well-being. If the harm associated with heavy (excessive) or even average use of new media has been overstated, then the recommendation of disconnection may also be problematic. New media use is heavily integrated into youth culture and sociality, restrictive media parenting practices or digital inequalities may rob adolescents of experiences that would otherwise be protective of self-esteem. We conducted a survey of rural adolescents, who are more likely to experience disconnection at home because of a lack of physical availability of broadband, not simply affordability. Based on that survey, we find that a negative relationship between screen time and lower self-esteem is eclipsed by a more substantive, negative relationship to inequalities in material access to the Internet and restrictive mediation of media by parents. Findings show that new media use does not substantively displace time spent socializing with family and friends and in other social activities (e.g., volunteering). Omitting the supportive, indirect relationship between time on social media and self-esteem, through time spent socializing, exaggerates the negative relationship between social media use and adolescent well-being for girls, and for boys, misspecified the direction of the relationship. Adolescents, who experience heavy restrictive mediation of media by parents or have limited Internet access at home, tend to report substantively lower self-esteem than heavy users of any new media.
New paper with Inyoung Shin on “New media use and the belief in a just world: awareness of life events and the perception of fairness for self and injustice for others“. Facebook and the use of many other new media are related to awareness of major life events in the lives of friends and family. Awareness of undesirable events in the lives of strong ties fosters a lower perception of equity and justice for others, whereas an awareness of desirable experiences in the lives of strong ties is related to greater, perceived, personal justice. We discuss the implications in terms of the psychological benefits that can come from the vicarious joy and comfort one receives from other’s experiences; what we call mudita and comfort from others (MACO) (the opposite of FOMO); and support for social movements that seek to reduce injustices experienced by disadvantaged groups. We view this work as an extension of cultivation theory into the study of social media.
The disclosure of life events is among the most common behaviors on social media and is part of the everyday activities revealed through the use of many other new media. This paper explores the awareness of major life events through these media as they relate to a person’s belief in a just world for themselves and others. Using survey data, we find that text messaging, commenting on Facebook, and having more Facebook friends are associated with awareness of desirable events. Passive modes of communication, e.g., the use of the ‘like’ interaction on Facebook, are related to an awareness of both desirable and undesirable life events across a greater range of social ties. Awareness of undesirable events in the lives of strong ties fosters a lower perception of equity and justice for others, whereas an awareness of desirable experiences in the lives of strong ties is related to greater, perceived, personal justice. We discuss the implications of the awareness of major life events through new media in terms of the psychological benefits that can come from the vicarious joy and comfort one receives from other’s experiences; what we call mudita and comfort from others (MACO). We argue that the long-term, cumulative effects of greater awareness of undesirable life events may lend support to social movements that seek to reduce injustices experienced by disadvantaged groups.
new paper : How variation in internet access, digital skills, and media use are related to rural student outcomes
New paper out on “How Variation in Internet Access, Digital Skills, & Media Use are Related to Rural Student Outcomes: GPA, SAT, & Educational Aspirations” with Craig Robertson, Laleah Fernandez, Inyoung Shin, and Johannes Bauer. This extends our work at the Quello Center with our partners at a dozen Michigan school districts, and Merit Network, Inc. There is a lot in this one, but the highlights include:
- For education outcomes, the benefit of using social media, video games, etc., for building digital skills outweighs any negative influences of excessive use.
- Gaps in access and digital skills, not a homework gap hurts rural student educational performance. Social media skills (and digital skills in general) predict higher SAT scores but not classroom grades.
- Dropping SAT for college admissions may hurt rural students. Discrepant SAT performance allows students with digital skills to demonstrate additional potential for success in higher education.
- Rural students who spend more time on sports receive higher grades and have higher educational aspirations than those with more digital skills (but digital skills, not sports predict SAT scores)… fixing divides in rural broadband access only part of the challenge.
- Rural students whose Internet access improved during the COVID-19 pandemic likely experienced lower academic gains than peers who already had broadband access, due to preexisting gaps in digital skill and experience with everyday media use.
Some have pointed to divides in the availability of fixed home broadband Internet access as a contributor to rural students’ lower levels of educational attainment. Based on standardized exams (SAT Suite) and a survey of rural Michigan students in grades 8–11, we find that rural students with broadband home Internet access are more interested in school and leave homework incomplete less often. However, the relationship to classroom grades (GPA) is relatively trivial. Yet, we find that students who are not dependent on a cell phone for Internet access and those with higher digital skills, especially social media skills, rank considerably higher on the SAT. Rural students with broadband Internet access are able to participate in a more diverse array of online media activities, which supports building digital skills. Any negative relationship between time spent on social media, video games, other digital media and educational outcomes is outweighed by the benefit to digital skills. However, aspects of rural culture; including the emphasis on activities such as sports, as a path to postsecondary schooling and upward, social mobility; may be stunting the positive relationship between access, digital skills, and educational aspirations. Whereas extra-curricular sports have no direct relationship to SAT performance, students who spend more time on sports receive higher grades and have higher educational aspirations than those with more digital skills. We discuss the implications for rural students’ access to human capital and how the unequal relationship between digital skills and performance in the classroom and on the SAT may perpetuate inequalities.