Youth Well-being

Coinciding with the release of the Pediatrics Supplement on November 1, 2017, Children and Screens hosted an interdisciplinary summit with pediatric media experts, researchers, advocates, government agencies, and policymakers, on what is known and what still needs to be learned about the relationship between kids and screens. The following summarizes Supplement findings shared at the summit:


Does “constant connectivity” via smartphones make youth anxious, depressed and/or contribute to other forms of ill-being?

Youth differ in their experiences of smartphones and social media. While it is the case that some youth who are heavy users of social media exhibit anxiety, depression, and lower life satisfaction, it is also the case that youth who use social media are reported to have increased self-esteem and social confidence, and reduced depression. How youth use digital media — the apps, platforms, and activities they engage in —the interactions they have with peers online, and how they respond to their online experiences inform whether their media use supports largely positive or negative outcomes.

How do digital and social media use affect relationships with friends and peers?

Digital and social media positively support existing relationships by allowing friends and family to stay in touch, facilitating communication and closeness in a manner that is convenient to one’s personal preferences (e.g., texting instead of voice calls). The downside to the ability to connect ‘around the clock’ is that youth can feel pressured to be always available, which can interfere with the development of healthy boundaries and a sense of autonomy.

Do social media make young people more narcissistic and/or focused on their own self-image?

Research suggests a connection between narcissism and use of social media; narcissistic people have been found to use social networking sites more often and in more self-promoting ways than less narcissistic people. However, it is unclear whether such social media use actually contributes to narcissism or whether already narcissistic individuals are drawn to social media. Qualitative research indicates that youth are often preoccupied with the potential benefits and/or negative consequences associated with their online self-image and content; this self-focused orientation is largely developmentally appropriate.

Key Takeaways

  • Digital and social media use is associated with positive well-being and social connectedness outcomes for youth, including those related to self-esteem, social confidence, increased empathy, decreased depression, closeness with friends and family, and opportunities for positive, supportive connections via online communities.
  • Digital and social media use is also associated with negative impacts, including lower life satisfaction, increased anxiety and depression, pressures to be constantly available to peers, online vigilance with self-presentation, decreased empathy, and disruption of in-person interactions.
  • Varied outcomes associated with digital media use are related to the specific technologies/platforms used, how often and in what ways they are used by youth, online content to which they are exposed including reactions from online audiences of peers, and other particulars of youths’ online experiences.

Additional Information


James, C., et al. Digital life and youth well­being, social­connectedness, empathy, and narcissism.

The analysis, conclusions, and recommendations contained in each paper are solely a product of the individual workgroup and are not the policy or opinions of, nor do they represent an endorsement by, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.