Teens Lead Nationwide Social Media Study Using Wearables
Two teens are planning the first adolescent-led research project in the U.S., using wearables to study social media’s impact on teen girls’ health.
How does social media affect the mental health of its teenage users? It’s a question making headlines across the nation following an explosive report about Instagram’s impact on young users. It’s also the question that prompted Wisconsin teens Destinee Ramos and Isabel Yoblonski to launch one of the first adolescent-led research projects on social media in the country.
Although much of the latest discussion of social media has surrounded its negative effects on young people, the reality is far more ambiguous. Some researchers have found that it can contribute to poor mental health outcomes and decreased well-being, while others have concluded that it improves adolescents’ offline relationships and sense of connection to a group. One thing that is clear is that there is very limited objective, physiological data on the subject, as most of the current studies rely solely on surveys and data mining.
Noticing this gap in the research, Destinee and Isabel wanted to add some new perspectives to the field. Last year, the two teens entered a STEM competition, Data for a Difference, run by our volunteers at PhysioQ in collaboration with the nonprofit organization CustomEd. Their small pilot study--using themselves as the participants--was designed to determine whether social media could influence teens’ overall well-being. Through smartwatches and cross-over randomization, they were able to use objective physiological data to observe how their own stress, sleep, and heart rate were affected during a week-long break from social media. They noticed interesting patterns in their results with regards to sleep quality and stress levels, and the study inspired them to pursue their research on a larger scale.
Their next step is a longitudinal study that aims to equip fifty adolescent girls across the U.S. with smartwatches in order to track their biomarkers during periods on and off of social media. They’ve captured the attention of esteemed researchers from Harvard University who have been volunteering their time to mentor them throughout this journey. By using objective physiological data, the findings could provide fresh insight into the relationship between social media and the physical and mental health of teenage girls. It will be one of the only studies led by teenage girls in the country--no small feat!
In the meantime, media outlets have taken notice of these formidable teenagers and they are currently gaining attention as part of social media discussions on Good Morning America , The Doctors and The Wall Street Journal. Firm believers that adolescents’ own voices are critical in matters that concern them, Destinee and Isabel are forging a platform for teens to be heard. They hope they can inspire teen girls to take agency in their own social media usage and create healthy habits while also utilizing the positive effects of social media by giving them access to their own data.
However, there are still considerable financial barriers that make it challenging for young researchers. The girls are seeking funding to cover the costs of their ambitious study, which includes the wearable devices needed. Visit their GoFundMe page to help support this important teen-led research for teens!
Destinee and Isabel are powerful examples of how young people can drive cutting-edge research that most affects them. At PhysioQ, we want to continue promoting research done by youth and amplify their voices. Take advantage of our student discount and start using smartwatches in your studies with our tool Labfront.