Human Development and Family Sciences

How does social media use affect early adolescents’ academic achievement?

In a new article published in Youth and Society, University of Delaware Associate Professor Mellissa Gordon and co-author Christine McCauley Ohannessian of Florida State University analyzed survey data from 1,459 middle schoolers in the Northeast United States and found that academic achievement decreased as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter use increased. In addition, Gordon and Ohannessian studied two factors that moderated the relationship between social media use and academic achievement: the quality of parent-adolescent communication and gender. They found that less frequent use of Facebook and Instagram, coupled with high quality mother-adolescent communication, was associated with higher academic achievement. In contrast, low-quality mother-adolescent communication and increased use of Facebook and Instagram was associated with lower academic achievement. In relation to gender, the authors found that as Snapchat and Twitter use increased, academic achievement decreased for both girls and boys. However, girls consistently maintained higher grades than boys with similar social media use. Unlike most other studies, Gordon and Ohannessian’s study focused exclusively on early adolescents aged 11 to 15 years—a growing population of social media users—and assessed four social media platforms, not only Facebook and Twitter. Because most research focuses on older adolescents or young adults, this study offers an important first step in understanding the links between social media use and academic achievement among early adolescents.

In studying the links between social media use and academic achievement, Gordon and Ohannessian analyzed participants’ self-reported data from surveys administered in the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2017. In the fall of 2016, seventh and eighth-grade students enrolled full-time at five public middle schools located in Connecticut and central Massachusetts (N = 1589) were invited to participate in a longitudinal study investigating risk and protective factors for internalizing symptoms (see The participants ranged in age from 11 to 15 years, and approximately 49% identified as boys and 51% identified as girls. Fifty-two percent identified as white, 21% identified as Hispanic/Latino, 9% identified as Black, 15% identified as multi-racial/ethnic, less than 3% identified as Asian and less than 1% identified as Pacific Islander or Native American.

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