From Risks to Strengths: Social Ecological Perspectives of Adolescent Social Technology Use and Psychosocial Development
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From Risks to Strengths: Social Ecological Perspectives of Adolescent Social Technology Use and Psychosocial Development

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The heterogeneity of experiences among adolescents in the digital age is often characterized by overgeneralized negative narratives regarding ubiquitous social technology use. There is limited research and practice surrounding a person-centered approach that may uncover differential impacts to development and mental health. Furthermore, as adopters of online spaces become younger, little is known about the critical transition period between childhood to adolescence, which can influence developmental trajectories in the digital age. This dissertation takes an overarching multimethod and social ecological perspective (i.e., individual, interpersonal, institutional and macrosystem) to explore early through later adolescent development and wellbeing coupled with their use of social technologies. Chapter 1 takes an individual person-centered analytic approach to investigate associations between early adolescent growth trajectories of psychosocial indicators and increased social media use across 4-years of this developmental period. This study leveraged a national sample of 6251 early adolescents (ages 9-13) in the US from the larger ABCD Study®. Results showed substantive growth of social media use and evidence of co-development with externalizing symptoms and prosocial behaviors. Girls were more likely to increase in internalizing symptoms over time, while boys decreased over this period of development. Exploratory analyses also showed differential patterns of growth across this sample of early adolescents when patterns were examined separately by racial-ethnic and family income indicators. Chapter 2 investigated interpersonal dynamics through daily measures of social belonging (i.e., with family and peers) and its links to various daily social technology engagements (i.e., communication, entertainment, content creation) over the course of a 14-day ecological momentary assessment of 388 adolescents (ages 10-17). Results showed that on days that adolescents reported greater peer social belonging they were also more likely to engage in increased use of social technology for entertainment purposes. Furthermore, adolescents who reported more psychological distress at baseline exhibited a stronger daily coupling of heightened feelings of family belonging and decreased social technology use for communication. Lastly, Chapter 3 presents a qualitative evaluation of an intergenerational Youth Advisory Board (YAB; ages 12-24) case study grounded in a positive youth development framework. This was implemented for the re-development of a co-design summer Digital Wellbeing Workshop curriculum tailored to diverse groups of middle school girls. This process evaluation showcased institutional and macrosystem level strengths and opportunities for integrating youth voices in the research and design practices for the development of digital tools that support middle school girls. The implications of the findings for each of the studies are discussed throughout the dissertation.

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This item is under embargo until April 17, 2025.