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Identity Meets Internet: The Effects of Social Media on Adolescent Identity Development

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Genevieve McCauley

on 5 November 2013

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Transcript of Identity Meets Internet: The Effects of Social Media on Adolescent Identity Development

Neuroscience Research Findings
Middle adolescence can be the most trying time for adolescent identity formation, as teens are under social pressures to differentiate self into various roles, but lack the cognitive abilities to integrate these various selves and form a cohesive self-identity (Harter & Monsour, 1992).

During adolescence, the peer group becomes a significant source of self definition (Davis, 2013). At the same time, research suggests that risk taking behaviors are more likely to occur in the presence of peers (Chein et al, 2011).
Under emotional arousal or in the presence of peers, socioemotional network diminishes the ability of the cognitive-control network to self-regulate.
There is an overlapping of regions that are activated during exposure to social and emotional stimuli, so the presence of peers when engaging in risky behavior activates the same reward circuitry that is activated by nonsocial rewards when individuals are alone (Steinberg, 2007).
Benefits of Social Media
Offers adolescents a tool to explore possible selves and express the ideal self they want to become (Subrahmanyam & Smahel, 2012)
If self-presentation is accepted, the adolescent may internalize this social reception and proceed with this element of identity formation.
If self-presentation is uncomfortable or rejected, the adolescent more easily avoids face to face criticism and can go on exploring alternative identities (Reid & Boyer, 2013).

The maintenance of friendships during adolescence highly influences identity formation. Peers groups become a source of self-definition and adolescents are more likely to discuss their sense of themselves and increase knowledge of self through conversations with close friends (Steinfield et al., 2008).
More likely to engage in self-disclosure with close friends (especially online), which can strengthen friendships, and create a buffer to other stressors in adolescence (Valenburg & Peter, 2009)

Can provide a community of like-minded individuals to serve as a support to teens who feel isolated or who lack appropriate models in environment
Culturally diverse students or members of the LGBT community (Garrod et al., 2012).
Risks of Social Media
Some reasons why social media presents a different kind of risk:
Persistence and searchability
Invisible audiences
Blurring of public and private, boundaries of what is "normative" behavior are unclear (Patchin & Hinduja, 2012).
1. C – Someone who posts
2. B- Facebook- 58% of Americans
have a Facebook account (15%
have Twitter, 12% Instagram)
3. C- 35 hours
4. B- 300 friends
5. A- 3.8 hours
6. C. 25% (Yikes!)

What Sites Are Teens Using Online?
Online experiences are not separate from a teen's "real life" but a part of their daily experiences, and must be given the same level of attention that any other factor affecting an individual's development and socioemotional health would receive.
Focused on the struggle between identity and identity confusion
Teens experience a developmental moratorium, in order to explore a range of possible identities and future roles
Enhanced cognitive and socioemotional development helps lead to exploration and eventual feelings of personal coherence
and consistency.
Various systems interact in ways that shape individual development.
Identity formation occurs in both an intra and interpersonal way (Bronfenbrenner, 1989).

The Impact of Social Media on Adolescent Identity Development
Presented by Genevieve McCauley
The Facts
95% of all teens ages 12-17 are online, with 80% using social media sites
These sites are often used by adolescents to author profiles that share their identities or allow them to explore different aspects of themselves (Reid & Boyer, 2013)
Although 88% of social media using teens have seen someone be mean or cruel online....
What is Social Media?
The internet is a "living thing"..."another place where socializing, gaming, productions, research, communication, and many aspects of our lives - positive, negative, and neutral - play out in real time" (Patchin & Hinduja, 2012).

A large section of today's media - whether it involves text, music, photos, or video - is social, or behavioral. We don't just consume it, we interact with it.

Let's start with a short quiz to see just how much you know about social media today.

65% of teens have had an an experience online that made them feel good about themselves.
According to the Pew Research Center (Lenhart et al., 2011)
So what is the impact of all this time spent "living" online?
Adolescent Brain Development
Neuroscience research has led to a better understanding of how adolescent brain development can greatly impact adolescent decision making, social and emotional reactions, and developmental processes including identity exploration (Steinberg, 2007).
What Is Adolescent Identity Development?
Adolescence is considered a pivotal time in identity development as young people explore various ways to present themselves and "be" in the world (Sadowski, 2008).

Identity development involves an adolescent's active search for their role, contemplation of personal strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to make meaning of their context and experiences (Lloyd, 2002).

(Erikson, 1968)
Context matters - An individual's interpretation of context and other mediating events serve to support healthy identity formation or act as barriers for building a stable identity (Kroger, 2000).

Let's review some of the key findings in more detail.

Socioemotional & Cognitive Control Networks
Although logical reasoning abilities reach adult levels by age 16, psychosocial capacities (impulse control, future orientation, resistance to peer influence) continue to develop into young adulthood .
Emotional arousal and heightened sensitivity to rewards (brought on by hormonal changes in puberty) can diminish regulatory ability of the cognitive-control network (Steinberg, 2007).
Brain development research suggests, education programs that try to inform adolescents about the risks involved in certain activities are not effective in preventing risk taking behaviors (Steinberg, 2007).

Restricting use doesn't seem to work either, since as we've seen, the sites and apps are always changing.

So what can we (educators, parents, communities) do to support a positive experience?
Discussion Questions
1. Has access to social media changed the process of identity development for today's teens?

2. What role should schools play in educating children about the benefits and risks of social media and the way to appropriately engage in online exploration?

3. Other thoughts or comments?
Let's look at just a few new sites teens are visiting. Please discuss with your team - why are teens using this site or app? Also, is there a benefit to use and what are the risks involved?
Can complicate the identity formation process:
In order for identity synthesis to occur, there must be a "inner continuity" of self (Erikson, 1968).
Self concept fragmentation - adolescents shift personalities throughout a range of online environments, sometimes leading to low levels of self-concept clarity. This is especially true of teens who use social media to interact with strangers more than friends (Davis, 2013).

Peer presence is constant (think back to brain development) so teens may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors while online as the definitions of normative or appropriate behavior are blurred (Brown & Martin, 2009; Steinberg, 2007):
Revealing private information or information that could lead to legal ramifications

What is being said...
you have pretty eyes but your fat
no one likes you
every1 will be happy is u died
drink bleach
go die
nobody cares about u
you seriously deserve to die
why aren't you dead?
go kill yourself
just kill yourself, your worthless
For adolescents already at risk, these words can do serious harm.
Power of Peers
Adolescents often place a greater importance on their friends opinions than their parents, while research shows that vulnerability to peer pressure increases during this stage of development (Steinberg 2001).

Interventions can teach kids to act as "cyber-shields" for each other (Patchin & Hinduja, 2012)
Peer bystanders have the power to shift targets experience from destructive (I deserve this) to healing (I'm not the problem).
Engage Everyone
A students online behavior can not be separated from the daily interactions educators, school professionals, and parents can see.
These online interactions can affect a student's view of themselves, their self-efficacy, self-esteem, and locus of control (Reid & Boyer, 2013).
Educating and updating the supporting adults in a child's environment is key
Start Early
Schools that use a "managed" rather than a "locked down" filtering approach in which students are taught to take responsibility for using the Internet safely (as early as third grade), decrease the risk to online dangers for students long-term (Patchin & Hinduja, 2012).
Develops media literacy to think critically about what they are sharing and uploading, and what they are seeing and downloading
Idea - Create a "physical blog" to teach students about posting, tagging, and commenting online.
Let's review some ways to help parents (and school professionals) talk to teens
(Cyberbulling Research Center)
Adolescents move from accepting parents' views, to peers' views, to determining his or her own view of self.
Increased access to the internet has caused the boundaries between one's micro-, meso-, and exosystems to become inreasingly blurred (Lloyd, 2002).
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