Skip to main content

Social Media Use and Social Connectedness in Adolescents: The Positives and the Potential Pitfalls

  • Kelly A. Allen (a1), Tracii Ryan (a2), DeLeon L. Gray (a3), Dennis M. McInerney (a4) and Lea Waters (a1)...

As social media use is rising among adolescents, the issue of whether this use leads to positive or negative outcomes warrants greater understanding. This article critically reviews the literature related to this important topic. Specifically, we examine how social media use affects social connectedness in terms of three elements of adolescent development: sense of belonging, psychosocial wellbeing, and identity development and processes. Mixed findings are reported regarding the role that social media plays in fostering social connectedness, which suggests that young people may experience both positive and negative psychological outcomes. As a result, this article argues that online tools create a paradox for social connectedness. On one hand, they elevate the ease in which individuals may form and create online groups and communities, but on the other, they can create a source of alienation and ostracism. This article contributes to ongoing discourse in the area of educational and developmental psychology, and has implications for researchers and practitioners working with adolescents.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Kelly A. Allen, Educational and Developmental Psychologist, Toorak College, PO BOX 150, Mount Eliza VIC 3930, Australia. Email:
Hide All
Abrams, D., Weick, M., Thomas, D., Colbe, H., & Franklin, K.M. (2011). On-line ostracism affects children differently from adolescents and adults. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 29, 110123. doi:10.1348/026151010´494089
Adams, W.L. (2011, August 8). Were Twitter or Blackberrys used to fan flames of London's riots? Time. Retrieved December 22, 2013, from,8599,2087337,00.html
Anderson-Butcher, D., & Conroy, D.E. (2002). Factorial and criterion validity of scores of a measure of belonging in youth development programs. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 62, 857876. doi:10.1177/001316402236882
Arnett, J.J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55 (5), 469480. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Nearly three-quarters of Australian households now have broadband. Retrieved from
Baker, E., & Bugay, A. (2011). Peer victimization and depressive symptoms: The mediation role of loneliness. Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30, 13031307. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.10.253
Barker, V. (2012). A generational comparison of social networking site use: The influence of age and social identity. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 74 (2), 163187. doi:10.2190/AG.74.2.d
Baumeister, R.F., & Leary, M.R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117 (3), 497529. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497
Bonetti, L., Campbell, M.A., & Gilmore, L. (2010). The relationship of loneliness and social anxiety with children's and adolescents’ online communication. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13 (3), 279285. doi:10.1089/cyber.2009.0215
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Attachment. London: Hogarth Publishers.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss, Vol. 2: Separation. New York: Basic Books.
Bradley, G.L., & Inglis, B.C. (2012). Adolescent leisure dimensions, psychosocial adjustment, and gender effects. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 11671176. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.03.006
Caplan, S.E. (2003). Preference for online social interaction: A theory of problematic Internet use and psychosocial well-being. Communication Research, 30, 625648. doi:10.1177/0093650203257842
Cohen, A.P. (1982). Belonging: Identity and social organization in British rural cultures. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
Cohen, A.P. (1985). The symbolic construction of community. London: Tavistock.
D’Amato, G., Cecchi, L., Liccardi, G., Pellegrino, F., D’Amato, M., & Sofia, M. (2012). Social networks: A new source of psychological stress or a way to enhance self-esteem? Negative and positive implications in bronchial asthma. Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology, 22 (6), 402405. Retrieved from
Davis, K. (2012). Friendship 2.0: Adolescents’ experiences of belonging and self-disclosure online. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 15271536. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.02.013
Davis, K. (2013). Young people's digital lives: The impact of interpersonal relationships and digital media use on adolescents’ sense of identity. Computers and Human Behavior, 29, 22812293. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.05.022
Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1991). A motivational approach to self: Integration in personality. In Dienstbier, R. (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: Perspectives on motivation (vol. 38, pp. 237288). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Douglas, K. (2013, July). Understanding cyberhate: The psychology of prejudice and discrimination in online communication. Paper session presented at the Social Networking in Cyberspace Conference, Wolverhampton, UK.
Fiske, S.T. (2004). Social beings: A core motives approach to social psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Fitzpatrick, K.M., Dulin, A., & Piko, B. (2010). Bullying and depressive symptomatology among low-income, African-American youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39 (6), 634–45. doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9426-8
Fox, J., Warber, K.M., & Makstaller, D. (2013). The role of Facebook in romantic relationship development: An exploration of Knapp's relational stage model. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 30, 771794. doi:10.1177/0265407512468370
Gajaria, A., Yeung, E., Goodale, T., & Charach, A. (2011). Beliefs about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and response to stereotypes: Youth postings in Facebook groups. Journal of Adolescent Heath, 49, 1520. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.09.004
Gillen-O’Neel, C., & Fuligni, A. (2013). Longitudinal study of school belonging and academic motivation across high school. Child Development, 84 (2), 678692. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01862.x
Gonsalkorale, K., & Williams, K.D. (2007). The KKK won't let me play: Ostracism even by a despised outgroup hurts. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 11761186. doi:10.1002/ejsp.392
Harter, S. (1999). The construction of the self: A developmental perspective. New York: Guilford Press.
Harwood, J. (1999). Age identification, social identity gratifications, and television viewing. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 43, 123136. doi:10.1080/08838159909364479
Hill, P.L., Allemand, M., Grob, S.Z., Pen, A., Morgenthaler, C., & Kӓppler, C. (2013). Longitudinal relations between personality traits and aspects of identity formation during adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 26, 413421. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2013.01.003
Ko, H., & Kuo, F. (2009). Can blogging enhance subjective wellbeing through self-disclosure? CyberPsychology & Behaviour, 12 (1), 7579. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0163
Koster, M., Nakken, H., Pijl, S.J., & van Houten, E. (2009). Being part of the peer group: A literature study focusing on the social dimension of inclusion in education. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13 (2), 117140. doi:10.1080/13603110701284680
Laghi, F., Schneider, B.H., Vitoroulis, I., Coplan, R.J., Baiocco, R., Amichai-Hamburger, Y., Hudek, N., Koszycki, D., Miller, S., & Flament, M. (2013). Knowing when not to use the Internet: Shyness and adolescents’ on-line and off-line interactions with friends. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 5157. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.07.015
Lanza, H.I., Echols, L., & Graham, S. (2013). Deviating from the norm: Body mass index (BMI) differences and psychosocial adjustment among early adolescent girls. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 38 (4), 376386. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jss130
McInerney, D.M. (2014). Educational psychology: Constructing learning (6th ed.). Sydney, Australia: Pearson.
Madden, M., Lenhart, A., Cortesi, S., Gasser, U., Duggan, M., Smith, A., & Beaton, M. (2013, May 21). Teens, social media, and privacy. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from
Manago, A.M., Graham, M.B., Greenfield, P.M., & Salimkhan, G. (2008). Self-presentation and gender on MySpace. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 446458. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2008.07.001
Margalit, M. (2010). Lonely children and adolescents: Self-perceptions, social exclusion, and hope. New York: Springer.
Martin, A.J., & Dowson, M. (2009). Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: Yields for theory, current issues, and practice. Review of Educational Research, 79, 327365.
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370396. doi:10.1037/h0054346
Mensah, F.K., Bayer, J.K., Wake, M., Carlin, J.B., Allen, N.B., & Patton, G.C. (2013). Early puberty and childhood social and behavioral adjustment. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, 118124. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.12.018
Milian, M. (2011). CNN Tech: Facebook, Google refer suicidal people to help lines. Retrieved from
Newman, B.M., Lohman, B.J., & Newman, P.R. (2007). Peer group membership and a sense of belonging: Their relationship to adolescent behavior problems. Adolescence, 42 (166), 241263. Retrieved from
Nurullah, A.S. (2009). The cell phone as an agent of social change. Rocky Mountain Communication Review, 6 (1), 1925. doi:10.1016/j.trf.2013.03.006
Olenik-Shemesh, D., Heiman, T., & Eden, S. (2012). Cyberbullying victimisation in adolescence: Relationships with loneliness and depressive mood. Emotional & Behavioural Difficulties, 17 (3), 361374. doi:10.1080/13632752.2012.704227
Pharo, H., Gross, J., Richardson, R., & Hayne, H. (2011). Age-related changes in the effect of ostracism. Social Influence, 6 (1), 2238. doi:10.1080/15534510.2010.525852
Putnam, R.D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Quinn, S., & Oldmeadow, J.A. (2013). Is the igeneration a ‘we’ generation? Social networking use among 9- to 13-year-olds and belonging. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31, 136142. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12007
Reeve, J., Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2004). Self-determination theory. A dialectical framework for understanding sociocultural influences on student motivation. In McInerney, D.M. & Van Etten, S. (Eds.), Research on sociocultural influences on motivation and learning: Big theories revisited (vol. 4, pp. 3159). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Press.
Ryan, T., & Xenos, S. (2011). Who uses Facebook? An investigation into the relationship between the Big Five, shyness, narcissism, loneliness, and Facebook usage. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 16581664.
Schachter, E.P., & Rich, Y. (2011). Identity education: A conceptual framework for educational researchers and practitioners. Educational Psychologist, 46, 222238. doi:10.1080/00461520.2011.614509
Sharabi, A., & Margalit, M. (2011a). The mediating role of internet connection, virtual friends, and mood in predicting loneliness among students with and without learning disabilities in different educational environments. Journal of Learning Disabillities, 44, 215227. doi:10.1177/0022219409357080
Sharabi, A., & Margalit, M. (2011b). Virtual friendships and social distress among adolescents with and without learning disabilities: The subtyping approach. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 26, 379394. doi:10.1080/08856257.2011.595173
Shochet, I.M., Smith, C.L., Furlong, M., & Homel, R. (2011). A prospective study investigating the impact of school belonging factors on negative affect in adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 40, 586595. doi:10.1080/15374416.2011.581616 (2014). Social media marketing, statistics & monitoring tools. Retrieved January 22, 2014, from
Steinberg, L. (2008). A social neuroscience perspective on adolescent risk-taking. Developmental Review, 28 (1), 78106. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2007.08.002
Teo, T. (2013). An initial development and validation of a Digital Natives Assessment Scale (DNAS). Computers & Education, 67, 5157. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2013.02.012
Tortajada, I., Arauena, N., & Martínez, I.J. (2013). Advertising stereotypes and gender representation in social networking sites. Comunicar, 21 (41), 177186. doi:10.3916/C41-2013-17
Trope, Y., Ferguson, M., & Raghunathan, R. (2001). Mood as a resource in processing self-relevant information. In Forgas, J.P. (Ed.), Handbook of affect and social cognition (pp. 256274). Hillsdale, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum
Valkenburg, P.M., & Peter, J. (2009). The effects of instant messaging on the quality of adolescents’ existing friendships: A longitudinal study. Journal of Communication, 59, 7997. doi:10.1111/j.1460–2466.2008.01405.x
Williams, K.D. (2007). Ostracism. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 425452. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085641
Williams, K.D., & Nida, S.A. (2011). Ostracism: Consequences and coping. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20 (2), 7175. doi:10.1177/0963721411402480
Zadro, L., Williams, K.D., & Richardson, R. (2004). How low can you go? Ostracism by a computer is sufficient to lower self-reported levels of belonging, control, self-esteem, and meaningful existence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 560567. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2003.11.006
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Educational and Developmental Psychologist
  • ISSN: 2059-0776
  • EISSN: 2059-0784
  • URL: /core/journals/educational-and-developmental-psychologist
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed