More on the Benefits of Digital

Please remember that Aye Mind does not offer direct support for mental health issues and is not continuously monitored for messages. If you need an ambulance, call 999. If you or someone around you is in distress or need immediate help, click here to find a list of services you can talk to.

1. Creativity, identity and expression

Social media users create and share their own content: from original content such as artwork, video and images to ‘remixed’ content, such as playlists and animated pictures. Young people have become particularly competent in producing and disseminating their own ‘small media’ as part of everyday life.

The far-reaching benefits include:

  • Increased literacy
  • A sense of aspiration and self-worth
  • Getting feedback and validation
  • Encouraging experimentation with identity.

Collaborative creative activities are shown to foster connection with others and a sense of community, long or short term.

In a report on the use of mobile devices in Japanese culture, it was shown that sharing and curating multimedia content with a small group of people helped build collective belonging. This is eerily similar to the way in which social media channels such as Twitter, Tumblr and wiki/fan pages work now.

Thanks to the high degree of personalisation, social networking is key to young people’s expressions of identity. A sense of belonging and acceptance, for example of sexual orientation, gender diversity or disability can arise from collective identification with geographically and culturally diverse individuals.

In mental health forums, the connection to online communities is often observed and utilised – for example, in recruiting moderators trusted by members. This is a practice developed as a volunteering opportunity by YouthNet for TheSite.

Young people use social networking to experiment and seek legitimacy for political, sexual, ethnic and cultural identities. This has been well demonstrated in groups of young people exposed to risk of poor mental health, including new migrants, BME groups and young people with long-term rare conditions. Groups like Brittle Bone UK and Action for ME have used online collaboration to connect distant peers. The phenomenon is also apparent in the way young people with mental health problems use social media to express their feelings and seek validation and peer connections.

Civic involvement and connection to decision-making in communities is associated with good mental health. Social networking provides new spaces for civil and political activity. Organisations are increasingly looking to use social networking to engage young people in government and community decision-making. In Scotland, Young Scot, NUS Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament have sought to develop young people’s interest and capacity to engage with civic activities using online communication.

2. Strengthening social relationship

Strong interpersonal relationships are critical for the development of good mental health, and the resilience needed to face challenges. Social networking has been shown to play an important role in developing and strengthening relationships of all kinds.

The Internet allows young people to address concerns about the lack of places to meet outside of school, lack of time or structured activities. Social media can help maintain social networks when complexity (such as illness) or mobility (such as moving or transitioning to college/university) interferes with face-to-face interactions.

Facebook was founded to enable members of college classes to keep in touch, and research has suggested that students with lower self-esteem and satisfaction with university life have benefitted most from active use of Facebook. Facebook has also been associated with helping young people with less developed social skills to build friendships that then translated offline.

Traditionally, research has focused on how social networking helps maintaining existing relationships, with the suggestion that relationships that occur solely online are ‘weaker’. However, evidence shows that, for some of the most marginalised or socially isolated young people, online peer connections are a key source of social contact.

Connections made with others in online environments can enable marginalised groups of young people to develop the confidence to utilise assets in their communities.

In a study with young people with long-term conditions using an online community, they described the friends they made online as ‘true friends’ who were ‘amongst the most dependable and enduring’.

3. Gaming and Wellbeing

Young and Well CRC Gaming Research Group published a comprehensive review on research linking video games to flourishing mental health, responding to concerns about the potential negative effects of gaming. They highlight that video games contribute to young person’s emotional, social and psychological wellbeing.

“… video games have been shown to positively influence young people’s emotional state, self-esteem, optimism, vitality, resilience, engagement, relationships, sense of competence … and social connections and functioning.”

In terms of wellbeing, this research suggests that the way young people play as well as who they play with might be more important than what game they are playing. Further research is needed to “explore key questions including the moderating influence of personal characteristics on the relationship between video games and wellbeing and extending existing research by replicating findings across game types, demographic samples and play environments.”

The review discuses evidence to support a positive role for gaming in emotional intelligence and control, building of healthy relationships and social capital, including between those from marginalised groups, and improvements in self-esteem.

BBC also reports:

“Video games improve self-esteem…  being part of a team and making new friends is claimed to help with depression. So gaming is not the geek’s paradise it once seemed, and while some video games will still make the headlines, they aren’t all bad.”

4. Want to read more?

Click here to read more on Aye Mind website

Young and Well (2013) Videogames and wellbeing: a comprehensive review. Read online

BBC Can video games be good for you? Read online

Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe 2007 Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online social network sites: A longitudinal analysis. Read online.

Livingstone (2008) Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. Read online.

Donath and Boyd (2004) The benefits of Facebook ‘friends’: social capital and college student’s use of online social network sites. Read online.

Collin, Rahilly, Third and Richardson (2011) The benefits of social networking. Read online.

Third and Richardson (2010) Connecting, supporting and empowering young people living with chronic illness and disability. Report prepared for the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Valkenburg and Schouten (2006) Friend networking sites and their relationship to adolescents’ well being and social self-esteem

Ito and Okabe (2005) Personal, Portable and Pedestrian. Lessons from Japanese Mobile Phone Use. Read online

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