Children's social networking site use: Risk and benefit perceptions and outcomes

Beatrice Hayes

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Immersed within a digital age, children aged 7-12 years (the iGeneration; Turner, 2015) and adolescents are engaging with digital technologies, especially social networking sites (SNS). A recent Ofcom (2019) report identified that 21% of 8-11 year-olds and 71% of 12-15 year-olds own a SNS profile, despite the age restrictions averaging 13 years. Children’s increasing digital engagement enables active participation within their construction of reality, which evokes adultist fears (Corsaro, 2015; James & Prout, 1997), such as the long-term outcomes upon children’s socio-emotional wellbeing (Bryce, 2010; Livingstone & Blum-Ross, 2017). Yet, little is known about what these outcomes may be. This thesis explores children’s understanding of the risks and benefits of SNS use using both Psychological and Sociological perspectives and a mixed-methods approach. Specifically, I assess children’s SNS use, perceptions and behaviours in studies 1-3 and later socio-emotional outcomes in study 4. Studies 1 and 2, quantitative cross-sectional online surveys, explore adolescents’ (aged 13-18; N=400) and children’s (aged 7-12; N=800) perceptions of the risks and benefits of SNS use, respectively. Study 3, with qualitative one-to-one semi-structured interviews, explores children’s (aged 7-12, N=15), parents’ (aged 28-48; N=13) and teachers’ (aged 26-54; N=14) perceptions of SNS use and, with adults, internet mediation behaviours. Study 4, a quantitative longitudinal online survey, explores children’s (aged 7-12; N=300) SNS behaviours and their association with self-esteem, wellbeing, anxiety and depression (6 months later). This thesis’ findings identify that adolescents and children (aged 7-12 years) are using SNS and that their online behaviours predict outcomes which are associated with risks and benefits. Adults’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of SNS use are misaligned with children’s reality and are limiting their access to broader benefits. Bridging social capital online and exploring the self is associated with beneficial outcomes over time.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Watling, Dawn, Supervisor
  • James, Alana, Supervisor, External person
  • Barn, Ravinder, Supervisor
  • Cinnirella, Marco, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Mar 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021


  • Development
  • Adolescents
  • Internet
  • Media
  • Social Behavior
  • mental health
  • Wellbeing
  • Parents
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mixed methods

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