Online communication, social networking and adolescent wellbeing: A systematic narrative review

Paul Best, Roger Manktelow, Brian J Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

563 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Much debate and polarisation exists regarding the impact of online social technologies on the mental wellbeing of young people.Objective: To systematically review and synthesise current empirical research on this topic, identifying both the beneficial and harmful effects of online communication and social media technology amongst young people.Methods: A systematic narrative review of research published between January 2003 and April 2013, retrieved using rigorous searching on eight bibliographic databases. Results were then subject to review using a quality appraisal tool and a narrative synthesis methodology. A theoretical framework was developed for the synthesis using concepts from mental health and communication studies literature.Results: Systematic searching retrieved 43 original research papers investigating or exploring the effects of online technologies on adolescent mental well-being or related concept(s). The benefits of using online technologies were reported as increased self-esteem, perceived social support, increased social capital, safe identity experimentation and increased opportunity for self-disclosure. Harmful effects were reported as increased exposure to harm, social isolation, depression and cyber-bullying. The majority of studies reported either mixed or no effect(s) of online social technologies on adolescent wellbeing. Conclusions: This systematic narrative review has revealed contradictory evidence while revealing an absence of robust causal research regarding the impact of social media on mental wellbeing of young people. Online technologies are increasingly being used for health and social care purposes, but further research is required to give confidence that these are appropriately designed to promote the mental health care and support of young people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-36
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - May 2014


  • Systematic Narrative Review
  • Adolescence
  • Social Networking
  • Wellbeing


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