Social Media’s Impact on Teen Health
How does social media affect the mental health of its teenage users? Before this question started making headlines across the nation following an explosive report in fall 2021, it was the question that prompted Wisconsin teens Destinee Ramos and Isabel Yoblonski to launch one of the first adolescent-led research projects on social media in the U.S.
A gap in current research
Although much of the latest discussion of social media has surrounded its negative effects on young people, the reality is far more ambiguous. Some researchers have found that it can contribute to poor mental health outcomes and decreased well-being, while others have concluded that it improves adolescents’ offline relationships and sense of connection to a group. One thing that is clear is that there is very limited objective, physiological data on the subject, as most of the current studies rely solely on surveys and data mining.
Galvanized by this gap in the research, Destinee and Isabel set out to add new perspectives to the field. Last year, the two teens entered Data for a Difference, a STEM competition run by our volunteers at PhysioQ in collaboration with the nonprofit organization CustomEd. Their small pilot study--using themselves as the participants--was designed to determine whether social media could influence teens’ overall well-being. Through smartwatches and cross-over randomization, they were able to use physiological data to observe how their own stress, sleep, and heart rate were affected during a three-day-long break from social media. They noticed interesting patterns in their results with regard to sleep quality and stress levels, and the study inspired them to pursue their research on a larger scale.
One of the only studies led by teen girls
Now they are launching a longitudinal study that aims to equip sixty adolescent girls across the U.S. with smartwatches in order to track their biomarkers during periods on and off of social media. The use of Labfront will allow them to monitor all participants remotely and gather the data from the smartwatches in one place. By using objective physiological data, the findings could provide fresh insight into the relationship between social media and the physical and mental health of teenage girls. Their ambitious study has captured the attention of esteemed researchers from Harvard University who have been volunteering their time to mentor them throughout this journey. It will be one of the only studies led by teenage girls in the country--no small feat!
Attracting media attention
Media outlets have taken notice of these formidable teenagers and in the last few months, they have taken part in social media discussions on Good Morning America, The Doctors , and The Wall Street Journal. Firm believers that adolescents’ own voices are critical in matters that concern them, Destinee and Isabel are forging a platform for teens to be heard. They hope they can inspire teen girls to take agency in their own social media usage and create healthy habits while also utilizing the positive effects of social media by giving them access to their own data.
Open access to research
The girls have met their fundraising goal and will apply for IRB approval in mid-December 2021. To openly document the research process, Destinee and Isabel will share their experiences and methods on our blog throughout the research lifecycle. By setting an example of how young people can drive cutting-edge research that most affects them, we hope they can motivate other young girls interested in STEM and research. Keep an eye on our social media (how apt) to make sure you don’t miss any important updates about this powerful teen-led research for teens!
February 2022 Update: IRB Approval and Recruitment. Read more.
Alix doubles as the marketing and pun specialist at Labfront. She usually operates quietly behind the scenes, but give her a karaoke mic and all bets are off.