Social Media Use Does Not Diminish Offline Friendships in Youth

Summary: A new study challenges the concern that social media impairs young people’s offline interactions. The study, part of the long-term Trondheim Early Secure Study, surveyed 800 individuals from ages 10 to 18, finding that increased social media use correlates with more offline socialization, not less.

This contradicts fears that digital interactions supplant face-to-face contact, suggesting instead that they may complement or even enhance it. The study also explored factors like age, gender, friendship quality, and social anxiety, noting a slight risk of poorer social skills among socially anxious youth with high social media usage.

Key Facts:

  1. The study tracked approximately 800 participants over eight years, collecting data at ages 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18.
  2. Researchers found no evidence that social media use detracts from offline social activities; rather, higher social media engagement was linked with increased time spent with friends in person.
  3. A minor risk was observed for socially anxious children, who might develop poorer social skills with excessive social media use, though this correlation was weak.

Source: NTNU

Parents often worry about the use of social media among children and young people. Caring about this is a good thing, and there are several reasons why you should pay attention, but there is one thing that parents needn’t worry about: young people spending time on social media does not impair their interaction with friends offline, according to a new study.

“On the contrary, we find that people who use social media a lot spend more time with friends offline,” says Professor Silje Steinsbekk at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU’s) Department of Psychology.

This shows two teenage girls.
Social interaction with friends is important in itself. Credit: Neuroscience News

The results are based on data from a long-term project called the Trondheim Early Secure Study. Data were collected from approximately 800 children and young people when they were 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 years old.

Among other things, the researchers asked the following question: If children spend more time using social media, will their social skills get better or worse and will they spend less or more time with friends offline?

Important to know more about the use of social media

Social interaction with friends is important in itself. It is associated with good mental health and is important because it provides the opportunity to practise social skills.

“Social media is a new arena for social interaction, and some people have argued that the use of social media inhibits the development of social skills, while others have claimed the opposite: that social media can promote social skills. We did not find any evidence supporting one or the other,” says Steinsbekk.

She says it is important to know which people are particularly vulnerable to problematic use of social media and who can benefit from it. The researchers therefore also investigated whether age, gender, the quality of friendship, and symptoms of social anxiety played a role.

Children with social anxiety may be at risk

The researchers found that children with symptoms of social anxiety who use social media a lot over time are at risk of developing poorer social skills.

“This correlation was weak, so we are reluctant to draw strong conclusions until more research has been done to investigate this further,” says Steinsbekk.

Previous research has shown that people with social anxiety may find it less intimidating to communicate with others online than in real life, and that these individuals therefore actually benefit from social media.

However, other studies show that they are also more vulnerable to problematic use of social media, such as increased risk of addiction and intensive use.

A challenging field of research

“Social media is a new social landscape where children and young people spend a lot of time, and we need knowledge about how it affects them. The findings of this study do not support the assumption that increased use of social media leads to less time spent together with friends. In fact, they suggest the opposite,” says Steinsbekk.

Children who spend more time using social media report spending several evenings a week with friends offline.

Other studies have shown that the use of social media leads to increased closeness in friend relationships, the development of new friendships, and old friendships being reinforced. This may be a possible explanation for the findings from the Trondheim Early Secure Study.

“We hope the findings can help reduce parents’ concerns somewhat. At the same time, it is important to emphasise the rapid pace of technological developments, which makes it challenging to research social media use. It is impossible to know if the results would be the same if we studied today’s 10-year-olds and followed them until they turned 18 in 2032,” says Steinsbekk.

About this psychology and social neuroscience research news

Author: Nancy Bazilchuk
Source: NTNU
Contact: Nancy Bazilchuk – NTNU
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
The new social landscape: Relationships among social media use, social skills, and offline friendships from age 10–18 years” by Silje Steinsbekk et al. Computers in Human Behavior


The new social landscape: Relationships among social media use, social skills, and offline friendships from age 10–18 years

Social media has created a new social landscape for adolescents. Knowledge is needed on how this landscape shapes adolescents’ social skills and time spent with friends, as these outcomes are important to mental health and psychosocial functioning.

Using five waves of biennially collected data from a birth cohort assessed throughout age 10–18 years (n = 812), we found that increased social media use predicted more time with friends offline but was unrelated to future changes in social skills.

Age and sex did not moderate these associations but increased social media use predicted declined social skills among those high in social anxiety symptoms.

The findings suggest that social media use may neither harm nor benefit the development of social skills and may promote, rather than displace, offline interaction with friends during adolescence.

However, increased social media use may pose a risk for reduced social skills in socially anxious individuals.

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