The impact of online social platforms on the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents has become a subject of concern as both positive and negative effects have been observed. Rising rates of anxiety, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts among adolescents have raised alarms and prompted researchers to explore potential links between technology use and wellbeing. A review of hundreds of studies presents a complex and uncertain relationship between youth mental health and social media use, with most studies reporting small associations in both negative and positive directions. The Surgeon General’s 2023 report emphasizes that the effects of social media vary among children due to cultural, historical, and socio-economic factors. While some children may experience excessive or problematic social media use, others benefit greatly from it, reporting feelings of acceptance, support, creativity, and connectedness.
This paper explores what we know about the risks and benefits of adolescent engagement with online social technologies, as a step toward anticipating and hopefully helping to shape the next iteration of the social internet: the metaverse. As the concept of the metaverse emerges, the potential benefits and harms on adolescent mental health and wellbeing come into question. Although research on metaverse environments is limited, insights from adolescents’ use of social media, online games, and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) provide a foundation for understanding the potential impact of metaverse spaces. The review focuses on youth ages 13-24, a significant transition period, while acknowledging that younger children are also active on social media. This is important to note as experiences with social and immersive technologies prior to the teenage years may affect wellbeing in later stages of adolescence and young adulthood.