Social Media Activity, Number of Friends, and Relationship Quality: The Effects on Young People’s Sense of Belonging and Wellbeing

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Lindsey Elder
Submitted: June 2021


Positive relationships are essential in meeting the fundamental need to belong. In adolescence, peer relationships become increasingly important for belonging as the risk of experiencing loneliness increases. However, the rising popularity of social media has added to the complexity of adolescents’ peer experiences, as it presents a number of interpersonal challenges and opportunities. In this thesis, I (1) introduce the thesis research and present a rationale for the chosen topic area, (2) explore the relationship between friendship quantity and quality and young people’s sense of belonging, and (3) consider how social media can be used to enhance wellbeing and belonging during adolescence.

The first chapter is an introduction to my thesis research. In this chapter, I summarise my thesis journey; I explain how my personal experiences inspired my chosen research area, what questions I wanted to answer, how I chose to answer them, and what I learned from the process. In the second chapter, I present the findings of a systematic literature review investigating the evidence for relationships between friendship quantity and quality and adolescents’ sense of belonging over time. The results of the 13 reviewed studies suggest that having more friends indirectly reduces loneliness by giving teenagers more opportunities to develop high quality friendships. However, more rigorous longitudinal research needs to be conducted to make reliable conclusions about these complex associations. In the third chapter, I present the findings of my empirical research, where I investigated how social media can be used to promote adolescents’ sense of belonging and wellbeing. In this research, 49 11- 18-year-olds took part in a randomised controlled study, where they were asked to either (1) interact on social media, (2) lurk passively without interacting on social media, or (3) interact face-to-face. The results show that changes in belonging and wellbeing did not differ significantly between the groups. However, the findings do suggest that using social media to maintain existing relationships positively predicts later belonging. Conversely, using social media to pass time predicts lower belonging and wellbeing. Overall, the study provides some preliminary evidence to suggest that using social media to interact with friends and family is more beneficial for adolescents than passive use. However, repeating the research after the coronavirus pandemic and with a larger sample size will be important to make more reliable conclusions and recommendations for practice.

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