May 10, 2024

New study shows that increased social media usage can improve students’ ability to socialize offline

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

On average, students spend at least 8 hours a day online. With tech playing a large role in students’ daily lives, families and educators worry that more social media use will lead to less in-person social interaction. However, new findings connected to the Trondheim Early Secure Study, a long-term study on mental and emotional health development from preschool age to adolescence, challenge this belief and suggest that increased social media usage correlates with more offline socialization than less

Over eight years, researchers surveyed 800 respondents aged 10 to 18 and found that social media interactions don’t replace face-to-face communication; instead, they may even improve it among students and their peers. With educators now integrating tech and social media into their lessons regularly, studies like this provide reassurance that students can strike a balance between their online and offline activity and maintain it even as the school year comes to a close. 

When students can strike a balance while staying connected with their friends outside of school, they can focus on keeping up with their responsibilities and achieving their personal and academic goals, like completing summer reading assignments or summer internships. With the findings from this new study, educators can equip students with the tools needed to strike a healthy balance and stay connected with their peers and school community throughout the summer. 

Online vs. Offline Interactions: Both are beneficial 

Over eight years, the Trondheim Early Secure Study surveyors interviewed 800 participants aged 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 to track the development of their mental and emotional health and behaviors related to social media. Factors like age, friendship quality, and social anxiety were also considered as researchers evaluated the participants’ social interactions. The study, focusing on school-aged participants, examines factors influencing students’ social behaviors, making it valuable for educators amidst the rise of technology in students’ lives.

It’s undeniable that face-to-face communication is crucial for students’ happiness and well-being. Studies show that offline interactions with friends can provide many benefits, including increased happiness, decreased loneliness, and a sense of belonging. Happy, well-connected students are more motivated productive, and achieve greater academic success, benefiting both students and educators.

Spending time with peers face-to-face is an experience that social media cannot replace. And studies support this – showing that in-person interactions contribute to feelings of connection and stave off feelings of loneliness more than technological interactions do. However, this doesn’t mean online interactions aren’t beneficial and don’t contribute to student happiness. 

Social media apps centered around networking and community-building have become popular places for students to make new friendships, strengthen pre-existing ones, and maintain connections with people they may have lost touch with otherwise. Around 57% of students have met a new friend online, and around 72% of students spend time with their friends on social media. Social media apps are pivotal for student interactions, underscoring the significance of online spaces for socializing and communicating. Students utilize these platforms not only to consume content but also to forge connections and foster relationships.

With apps like Instagram, TikTok, and X, students can consistently communicate with their friends and peers by messaging them, tagging them in comment sections, and sending them posts from trending creators. These interactions are quick and easy, and they allow students to stay connected even when they’re physically apart or busy with other things, like work assignments and family obligations. It’s easy to see why students find these online methods of communication appealing and why they continue to use them at an increased rate. But how does more online interaction improve their offline interactions? Let’s find out. 

How increased online interaction improves offline interaction

If students are increasing their online interactions, does that mean they’re decreasing their offline interactions? Not necessarily. According to Silje Steinbekk, a professor in the Trondheim Early Secure Study, people who use social media frequently spend more time with friends offline.” Some even reported spending several evenings per week with their friends in real life. As these findings show, students spending more time online doesn’t correlate with them spending less time together offline. Educators who incorporate social media use in the classroom may have concerns about how it affects their students. However, studies like this support the idea that high social media usage doesn’t necessarily impact students’ ability to interact with others offline. 

Over 80% of teens who use social media feel that it connects them to their friends’ lives, and 70% feel that it connects them to their friends’ emotions.

Social media apps let students track friends’ activities through posts or direct messages and share their own, creating constant connection, even during school breaks or absences.

This ability to maintain a consistent connection with others regardless of circumstances can strengthen relationships between students. 

Online communication can also strengthen offline interactions between students and their families. Almost 67% of social media users keep in touch with family members through social media sites, which apps like Facebook and Instagram are commonly used. Students can foster connections beyond geographical boundaries by communicating online with family members who live far away. They can also stay in close contact with families and caregivers and share their location when needed for safety. 

When students are empowered to strike a balance between tech and the people around them, they can foster healthy communication with them throughout the school year and during the summer. 

TSI’s Take: Strategies for empowering students to strike a balance 

Social media continues to increase in popularity each year and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. As summer approaches, students will rely on social media to stay connected to their friends and peers from school. However, it’s important to strike a balance even during summer breaks so that students have a healthy online divide. Educators can empower students to strike this balance by providing them with strategies for fostering both types of connections. 

Here are some strategies for educators looking to empower students to balance their online and offline interactions positively: 

  • Encourage students to initiate positive interactions online: Encourage students to foster healthy, positive communication on social media by starting a friendly conversation, leaving positive comments on people’s posts, or sliding up on stories to create new friendships. 
  • Empower students to maintain a healthy balance: Give students the tools to create a healthy balance between online and in-person interactions. Discuss the importance of spending time with friends and family in person, and encourage students to use social media in ways that foster these face-to-face connections, such as creating a group chat to plan hang-outs. 
  • Emphasize how social media can interact with others: Discuss how social media can positively impact others. Encourage students to use social media to check on their friends regularly, seek out peers who share their interests, healthily express their feelings, and foster a sense of connectedness to their community. 

Educators can empower students to strike a balance online and offline, fostering by recognizing the benefits of online communication for real-life interactions. If you’re interested in finding more ways of empowering students to strike a balance with technology, check out The Social Institute’s School Playbook on “Educators’ Role in Empowering Students To Strike A Balance With Technology.”

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question

Huddle with your students
With summer break approaching, what are some ways we can strike a healthy balance between our online and offline interactions? How might educators and families support us in achieving this balance?

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.