Abstract: Beyond Social Media Benefits and Harms for Adolescents: Assessing Contributors to Resilience to Inform Interventions (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Beyond Social Media Benefits and Harms for Adolescents: Assessing Contributors to Resilience to Inform Interventions

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Sage, PhD, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Karen Randolph, PhD, Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Dale Fitch, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Todd Sage, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, UB, Buffalo, NY
Background: Social workers who work with adolescents may have preconceived biases about their social media use, or fail to explore it all together. Marginalized youth are at greater risk online, given the high overlap between offline and online victimization experiences, but also encounter unique opportunities online that can contribute to well-being, including identity exploration and formation, social support and social capital, belonging, health-information seeking, and safe spaces for self-disclosure. Many of these positive outcomes are protective factors associated with resilience. Resilience, or the notion of adapting in the face of adversity, is a lens by which to understand the ways that youth overcome negative experiences online. Resilience only occurs in the face of risk; youth restricted from social media use cannot develop online resilience. Understanding the mechanisms by which online risks do not lead to online harms for some youth can inform future social work interventions so that adolescents can benefit from online opportunities.

We report on results of a systematic literature review which explored the following questions about adolescent use of social media: (1) what are associations between (a) well-being while using social media and (b) resilience; (2) does resilience in digital settings have unique characteristics compared to traditional conceptualizations of resilience?

Methods: An academic librarian assisted with identifying search terms synonymous with adolescence, social media, and resilience. Using Cochrane guidelines, we searched articles published 2006-2019 in multiple databases (e.g., Academic Search Complete; PsycARTICLES; PsycINFO; Social Work Abstracts; SocINDEX). Two coders screened for inclusion criteria: populations aged 13-21; related to resilience or a predictor of resilience; reports on a well-being outcome connected to user’s social media use.

Results: The initial search delivered 148 articles. Abstracts, then full texts, were scanned for relevance; then references of included articles were screened. After articles were screened by two authors, thirteen met inclusion criteria. We extracted findings relevant to the research questions. Some studies operationalized resilience as an explanatory variable providing direct or moderating influences on well-being outcomes (n=11), and others used resilience as the outcome of positive social media experiences (n=3). Variables extracted common to offline and online resilience included self-efficacy (1), self-regulation (2), positive coping style (2), good mental health (2), positive ethnic identity (2), and social support (2). Variables extracted that are not typically associated with resilience included active help-seeking strategies (2) and technology skills (2).

Conclusion and Implications: Variables associated with digital resilience, or the ability to adapt to online adversity, mostly overlap with predictors of resilience offline. Additional supports for digital resilience may include active help-seeking and technology skills. Social workers can aim toward interventions known to support youth resilience in offline settings in order to keep youth safe online, as youth may benefit from experiences when using social media if they can rebound from online risks. They may also consider offering specific training in technology, and how to respond actively versus passively in the face of online adversity. More research is needed to contribute to an emerging conceptual framework of digital resilience.