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Enlighten Me: Can social media help teens?

Delaware Public Media

New research out of the University of Delaware suggests that some ways of using social media—such as directly communicating with friends—may have helped teens thrive during the pandemic.

The study, called “#Grateful,” was published last month in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

And in this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks with one of the authors—UD graduate student Anne Maheux.

Researchers looked at the relationship between high schoolers’ social media use and gratitude over 15 months before and during the pandemic. They found that teens who reported an increase in the importance of using social media for meaningful conversations with close friends also reported increases in gratitude over the same time period. 

“In other words, feelings of gratitude and motivation to use social media to connect with close friends are linked together,” said Maheux.

Maheux says her team went in thinking social media was impacting mental health. 

“But what we found when we started to tease apart the directionality was moreso that gratitude promotes this positive engagement with social media," she said. "[It's] really important because we want to try to understand, how are positive ways that teens can use social media, and how can we encourage them to use social media in those ways?

Maheux says parents can do this by encouraging teens to reflect on their values before using social media and to see it as a tool to build meaningful relationships with friends. 

This story has been updated.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.