Presented by Dr Emily Lowthian (Swansea University) 

Recent research has identified that having internet only friends, using certain apps, and posting pictures of oneself is related to lower wellbeing. This research explores how online behaviours pattern among young people, and if these patterns impact health and wellbeing.

We use the Understanding Society COVID-19 Panel data in from November 2020 and March 2021, along with baseline data was used from the annual survey (in 2019). The sample was made up of 1,432 adolescents aged 10 – 15 years participated in the youth paper survey of the COVID-19 panel in November 2020. We used latent class analysis to explore how online and social media activity formed groups of behaviours, and regress covariates as predictors, and social, physical and mental wellbeing as outcomes.

We found four unique classes the ‘Avid users’, ‘Scholars’, ’Straddlers’ and the ‘Passengers’; we are co-developing new labels with young people. The Avid users were the most active on social media, and 50% had internet friends and 58% chatted to anyone online. The Straddlers were the second most active on social media, but fewer had internet friends (15%) and spoke with anyone online regularly. The Scholars used technology for schoolwork (83%) and news (25%) everyday, whereas the Passengers posted the least (78% said ‘never’) and only 63% had a social media account. The Avid users had the lowest mental wellbeing cross-sectionally, and longitudinally, and lower socioeconomic groups were more likely to be in this class.

We have worked with two PPI groups of young people (Wolfson and TRIUMPH) to co-design this study, and produce social media resources to connect with young people. Increasing awareness of these potential harms among young people and their parents, along with further research exploring the mechanisms and bi-directional associations of social media and wellbeing is key.

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