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Adolescent Social Media Use and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Thematic Meta-synthesis


Qualitative research into adolescents’ experiences of social media use and well-being has the potential to offer rich, nuanced insights, but has yet to be systematically reviewed. The current systematic review identified 19 qualitative studies in which adolescents shared their views and experiences of social media and well-being. A critical appraisal showed that overall study quality was considered relatively high and represented geographically diverse voices across a broad adolescent age range. A thematic meta-synthesis revealed four themes relating to well-being: connections, identity, learning, and emotions. These findings demonstrated the numerous sources of pressures and concerns that adolescents experience, providing important contextual information. The themes appeared related to key developmental processes, namely attachment, identity, attention, and emotional regulation, that provided theoretical links between social media use and well-being. Taken together, the findings suggest that well-being and social media are related by a multifaceted interplay of factors. Suggestions are made that may enhance future research and inform developmentally appropriate social media guidance.

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We extend our gratitude to the authors of the original studies for bringing forth the perspectives of young people.


The review protocol including review question, search strategy, inclusion criteria data extraction, quality assessment, data synthesis was preregistered and is accessible at:

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MS conceived of the study, participated in its design, coordination, interpretation of the data and drafted the manuscript; LH participated in the design and interpretation of the data; FWJ participated in the design and interpretation of the data. All authors read, helped to draft, and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michael Shankleman.

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The authors report no conflict of interests.

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Shankleman, M., Hammond, L. & Jones, F.W. Adolescent Social Media Use and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Thematic Meta-synthesis. Adolescent Res Rev 6, 471–492 (2021).

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  • Adolescents
  • Well-being
  • Qualitative
  • Social media
  • Identity
  • Meta-synthesis