News Release

Study shows social media usage negatively impacts schoolwork of students

Social media use of any platform presents a distraction, especially among early adolescents and their older peers, researchers say

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Delaware

Social media—particularly social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—has changed the ways in which we interact with one another. From communicating and connecting with people around the world, to sharing everyday life’s moments through pictures and videos; its prolific use has become a dominant entity in present-day society. Social media usage in adolescents and young adults has been accepted as widespread and pervasive. In a new study led by University of Delaware's Mellissa Gordon, researchers take a look at how this usage affects the schoolwork of this demographic. The paper published in Youth & Society examines the impact of the use of various social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—on how well a student does academically. Results show that with increased use of each of these platforms, academic achievement decreased.

Between 93% and 97% of 13 to 17 year-olds report using at least one social media platform, with most reporting using three different platforms regularly, researchers said. Average daily use spans 9 hours. Although some research shows there are benefits to social media—making new relationships with people not typically in the lives of adolescents, for example—researchers found that increased social media usage can have major interferences with brain development. 

The prolific use of social media has been one factor identified as having a potentially negative impact on achievement outcomes. However, previous studies often focus on older populations, such as older adolescents and college students, rather than early adolescents. Gordon and others decided to take a look instead at younger demographics as they are even more vulnerable due to their ever developing brains. 

Study participants were drawn from The PANDA Project, which was designed to learn more about adolescents’ adjustment and development. Adolescents were recruited from middle schools located in the Northeast region of the United States and completed self-report surveys in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017.

The study found the following to be notable:

  • In contrast to previous findings, results suggested that the most widely used social media platforms were Instagram and Snapchat, not Facebook and Twitter, as is commonly identified in adult samples. This finding is notable, as it suggests a few important features regarding social media use currently. First, it points to the fact that social media use among early adolescents differs from that of adults. This finding is especially important for parents who may be attempting to navigate their children’s online presence. Secondly, this finding signals that perhaps the preferred social media use platform may be changing altogether for both younger and older individuals. 
  • Regarding gender, results indicated more frequent use of social media among girls than boys; specifically, for the platforms Instagram and Snapchat.
  • Separate models independently assessing each of the four social media platforms revealed a negative association between use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapshot and early adolescents’ academic achievement. 

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