Adolescent identity formation and social media

PhD Thesis

Ward, A. 2017. Adolescent identity formation and social media. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University Salomons Centre for Applied Psychology
AuthorsWard, A.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDClinPsychol

Objective: To understand how adolescent social media use is impacting on their identity formation and their developing self-esteem. The degree of emotional investment in the sites, and what motivations underlie discreet social media activities. It also aims to investigate adolescent responses to online feedback and their coping strategies in relation to the feedback.

Method: in-depth interviews with 15 white British adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years (9, female, 6 males) consisting of four single sex friendships groups, were thematically analysed. Each group took part in a facilitated focus group, and an unaccompanied focus group. These were followed by an individual interview with the lead researcher.

Results: Five key themes were identified: investment, feelings evoked by social media, motivations, observations of social media rules and cultures, and strategies to manage feelings evoked by social media use.

Conclusion: while social media is providing an important new context for identity formation, it may be placing added pressures on adolescents’ developmental tasks. Digital youth fear receiving critical feedback online, due to the potential for experiences of shame to be projected widely. They are highly attuned to the quantifiable feedback they receive online and feel pressured to be effortful in their social media activity, which could impact negatively on adolescents’ ability to develop a coherent and stable self (Erikson, 1968) and psychological wellbeing, particularly for those with pre-existing mental health difficulties. A curious and non-judgemental approach to understanding how adolescents are using social media, is necessary in order to encourage supportive conversations.

KeywordsAdolescence; social media; identity; self-esteem; adolescent development
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Publication process dates
Deposited17 Oct 2017
AcceptedApr 2017
Output statusUnpublished
Accepted author manuscript
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