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Class of Excellence in adolescents’ mental health challenges in the digital age

Friday, 18 March, 2022 - 09:30 to Friday, 18 March, 2022 - 16:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Groene zaal
BRUCC onderzoeksgroep
BRUCC lezing publiek

Concerns about the effects of screen time on developmental, health and productivity outcomes in children and adolescents is as old as screens themselves. Indeed, the earliest study of the effects of screens on functioning was conducted in 1949 as a collaboration between Columbia Broadcasting System and researchers from Rutgers University (Riley, Cantwell, & Ruttiger, 1949). Since then, media-focused research, conducted by scholars using significantly more sophisticated methods, have consistently documented a relationship between what young people see on screens and later behavior (Huesmann, 2007; Robertson, McAnally, & Hancox, 2013).The two dimensional largely interactive static screens of the past, however, are no comparison to the dynamic, interactive, and ever present influence of social media and other on-line experiences. The screenification of lives adds a unique dimension to contemporary developmental contexts, one assumed from the outset to be detrimental to wellbeing. Studies of this assumption, however, have not yielded consistent findings, perhaps because of the focus on screen time as the most important operational mechanism of effect (Whitlock & Masur, 2019). Moreover, despite repeated studies showing small direct effects of screen use or social media use on wellbeing, persistent and concerning trends in global youth wellbeing track closely to widespread adoption of social media use, particularly smartphones (Twenge et al., 2021). Such disparities in findings point to the complexity of parsing out effects of a phenomenon (the internet in general and social media in particular) that has widely saturated modern life as we know it.


This Class of Excellence will focus on summarizing and discussing a) what we do and do not know about how social media is impacting adolescent and young adult development and wellbeing, b) the unique methodological challenges associated with investigation of the many pressing questions related to this field, and c) implications for research, practice and policy broadly, with a focus on  next steps for advancing research and intervention in Belgium. It will begin by summarizing the state of the field, but will dedicate significant time to discussion of identified gaps and opportunities for both research and practice and policy approaches to maximizing benefits of social media and mitigating potential harms.