MSU study suggests being online helps children stay connected

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 11:00 PM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - It’s the great screen time debate. A lot of parents would agree that teens spend too much time on social media and video games. A professor at Michigan State, however, said the real issue is some teens are not spending enough time online.

“Kind of common misconception that somehow interactions online are a barrier to interacting in person. And that doesn’t seem to measure up to what we see in kind of everyday life,” said Keith Hampton, professor at Michigan State University and director of academic research in the Quello Center.

Hampton and his colleagues study disconnection. “A lot of teens experience issues with self-esteem related to body image and their relationships with friends and with family members -- and the question we have is how much is the everyday use of social media and video games responsible for the decline in self-esteem,” said Hampton.

Studies show social media and video games are deeply rooted in youth culture and that teens who are isolated from their peers become disconnected from the social support that protects mental health.

“In fact, kids who spend time interacting online tend to have an easier time identifying who they are as individuals, learning how to interact with friends, and even learning how to interact with family who maybe live in a distance or they otherwise wouldn’t be able to interact with in person,” said Hampton.

Hampton led a study of more than 3,000 teens. He found social media and video games help teens with socialization, identity formation, and provides a channel for social support.

Kameron Amunga and Fisher Edwards are students at Waverly High School. They both spend about eight or nine hours a day on social media. Amunga maintains a 3.9 GPA.

Other students said they’re on social media everyday because it keeps them connected to what’s going on in the world.

“You can meet a lot of friends,” said Happyness N., student at Waverly. “Because a lot of friends I have, I made them on social media.”

Hampton’s research suggests social media and video games are usually the way teens get their information, communicate, and share.

“When we look at how much time kids spend socializing with friends in person, with family members in person, or even how much time they spend volunteering and working in jobs – it’s those kids that actually spend the most time online, that also spend the most time with friends and family, and engaged in other activities,” said Hampton.

Hampton found every hour spent on social media was accompanied by 21 minutes spent with friends. Teens with more screen time spent more time with family and friends. He said it’s important to keep in mind the risks to mental health from online bullying and harmful content.

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