Nura's Research: Impact of Social Media on Palo Alto Teens

One of the courses I took in my senior year at Palo Alto High School was called Advanced Authentic Research (AAR), which involved identifying a topic I was interested in and spending a year researching and collecting data. At the end of the year, my fellow AAR students and I showcased our findings at a final presentation to community members and classmates. My avid interest in mental health and my fascination for teens’ social media usage habits led me to my research interest: What is the effect of social media on the mental health of adolescents?

To narrow my focus, I began looking for a population that I could study more closely. Looking to existing resources for mental health and wellness support, I noticed that there were not enough culturally-competent resources for Asian American males. With this in mind, I focused my research question:

What is the impact of social media on the mental health of Asian American male adolescents? 

Over the course of my two semesters in AAR, I immersed myself in the literature about social media’s impact on children and adolescents. I learned a variety of new terms in this field–for example, “Facebook depression,” which was defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.” 

After reading through the existing literature, I began to look into opportunities for data collection. To obtain information from the largest number of people, I designed a survey to be distributed to roughly 50 male high school students in Palo Alto. The survey included a range of questions, inquiring about how often they use social media platforms, whether or not the content they saw made them feel more happy with themselves, and if they considered themselves social people. All of this information was then compiled and analyzed using inferential statistics. 

The survey responses were categorized by race: Asian, Biracial, Black and White. When looking at the first survey question and comparing the Asian results from both schools to the Biracial, Black and White results, it is evident that Asian students tended to be similar to the three other racial groups in their collective interest in using Instagram as the primary social media app. Asian and White students were split the same way in terms of an equal number of students using social media daily and hourly. The sample size of the number of Black students was smaller, so it is not appropriate to make a generalization about their usage habits.

57.9% of Asian students said that the content on social media made them feel happy with themselves, while 42.1% of students said it did not. To see the results from each racial group, refer to the images below.

Lastly, 75% of Asian students agreed with the statement, “I am a social person” (25% disagreed). The results for other racial groups demonstrated that roughly 90% of biracial and white students agreed with the statement and 10% disagreed. The Black student responses were split 50-50. The relationship between seeing oneself as a social person and the impact of social media on wellbeing could be the subject of a correlational test in future studies to identify if the two variables influence each other in any way. 

Personal Reflection & Implications

Following the data analysis process, I took time to reflect on my personal social media usage habits, prompting me to adapt a short term lifestyle change, 30 days of completely shutting off Instagram and Snapchat to see the effect it had on my well being and the alternative ways I spent my time. During that 30 day period I found myself in a clearer headspace and having the ability to focus more in school and on other daily life tasks. The experience was not all positive in the sense that on some days I felt a sense of disconnect from peers who I had no other contact with save through these social networking sites. These mixed feelings led me to do more research to see if any studies were done with teens who completely cut out these apps from their daily routines. The study that caught my eye was published last year by the University of Pennsylvania regarding the impact of social media on feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) among university students. Researchers explored the amount of time participants spent using certain social networking sites (SNSs), and the effect it had on their wellbeing, particularly their feelings of FOMO. The solution that was offered at the end of their study was to minimize the amount of time spent on SNSs, rather than completely cutting them out of one’s life. This allows for a gradual decrease in the dependence that accumulates for constantly being on these platforms.

Practical solutions for decreasing dependency include monitoring screen time usage and setting time limits on certain apps that have detrimental effects on user wellbeing. After reading the FOMO study, it became clear to me that I could address my own social media habits by being more strategic in my time management. Perhaps by managing my time more wisely I could get the best of both worlds: enhanced focus in school and daily tasks while still maintaining a connection to my peers. The solutions that the study offered were also applicable to my research project seeing that limiting the amount of time spent on social networking sites could also have a positive effect on the wellbeing of Asian American male adolescents.  

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All in all, my time spent carrying out research in AAR reaffirmed the importance of using media responsibly, and strengthened my commitment to my work with Youth United.

Finally, I’d like to give a special thanks to my amazing mentor and friend Roshelle Ogundele! Roshelle played an instrumental role in helping me carry out my research as well as constantly giving me tips for finding more efficient and professional ways to produce my final product. She is truly outstanding! Thank you Roshelle!!

Nura Mostaghimi