- Problematic use of social media, especially among teens and young adults, is linked to loneliness.
- Researchers suggest using social media mindfully and increasing in-person connections to reduce loneliness.
- Before social media use, look for signals of a fixed mindset and approach social media with a growth mindset to develop authentic relationships.
Can using social media (SM) make you lonelier?
Research links problematic SM use to increased loneliness, especially among teens and young adults (Hunt et al., 2018; O’Day & Heimberg, 2021).
How may we benefit from SM’s countless prospects and minimize this harmful side-effect?
Those who study loneliness suggest monitoring your SM use. Use the technology to enhance relationships but not replace in-person interactions.
There is much online about the do's and don’ts of SM use:
- Limit the number of times/day you check accounts.
- Use tracking apps to monitor and reduce use.
- Silence notifications (pings/bells).
- Turn off your phone at certain times of day, like mealtime.
- Don’t check accounts when you are with family and friends.
- Increase face-to-face meetings.
Sounds simple, follow the do’s and avoid the don’ts. Use SM wisely, meet up with new and old friends in person, and feel less lonely and happier. But just like anything else that may be good for you–eat more green leafy vegetables, walk 10,000 steps, and reduce alcohol consumption–not so easy to execute?
SM is designed to be addictive. It’s big business. The more you participate, the more advertisers profit.
How do you use SM less addictively, more intentionally to make meaningful connections? Mindset theory (Dweck, 2006) may provide a guide. Monitor your mindset before you use SM.
There are two mindsets:
A fixed mindset is a view that your qualities are unchangeable. You have a certain amount of ability or attribute–perhaps high or perhaps low–and there is little you can do to increase it. When you are lonely and hope to make a connection, a fixed mindset asks, “Am I socially desirable or not?”
So, you use SM to figure it out. Attractive or not? Fun or not? Interesting or not? Winner or loser? SM makes it simple to answer these questions. People will flock to you if you are attractive, fun, interesting, and a winner. You validate your desirability with the numbers–and more is better (but never enough?).
How much of this social commodity do you have? How many people are following you? How many likes did you get when you posted a video of your Caribbean vacation? How many invites have you received for the “must-be-there events?” Did the photo of you and your alluring partner at the pool party get reposted?
If you’re convinced you have little of this desirable attribute, you may use SM passively. You follow others you think have it–you don’t actively engage with them for fear that your deficiencies may be disclosed and that you may be rejected. Any rejection is evidence that you don’t have what is needed. Passively tracking the lives of others gives you the illusion of a connection with them.
Alternatively, if you’re somewhat apprehensive about your social desirability, you may broadcast to everyone just the “wins” in your life. You only post perfectly curated holiday images of yourself or your family. Or you just share your best news like an impressive promotion. Every ping, alert, like, or comment is intermittent reinforcement affirming your worth and keeps you hooked on SM. This fixed mindset approach to SM is not a pathology but a habit that almost anyone can fall prey to.
How do you tackle this habit SM is designed to reinforce? How do you resist the compulsion to use this technology to ascertain if you’re socially desirable? Maintain a growth mindset–the belief that although you start with a certain amount of skill, you can become more adept at making significant connections. A growth mindset asks, “How do I meet new friends and deepen existing relationships?”
A growth mindset explores the possibilities like volunteering or becoming active in a sport or hobby. SM is just one method to increase opportunities to connect—a supplement to in-person ways of connecting. SM is used to positively engage with selective others to discover common interests or share what has been learned, created, or developed.
A growth mindset accepts considerable effort is required to develop genuine friendships. It says, if you feel disconnected, take a bit of a risk, survey some new paths for meeting others on and offline, and open up a little more in conversations with existing friends. It expects some rejections when you disclose your imperfections.
To use SM mindfully to develop meaningful connections, watch out for the fixed mindset:
- Pause before you turn to SM.
- Ask, “Am I using my account because it is a safe and easy way to affirm my social desirability?
- If yes, shift to the growth mindset approach. Ask, “How do I take a chance and put in the effort to explore new ways to engage with others in an authentic connection?”
If you are using SM because it seems safer or easier than an in-person connection, you may be trapped in a fixed mindset. For example:
Hearing of a friend’s breakup with their longtime partner, a fixed mindset uses SM to send a sad face emoji and simply comment, “It’s for the best.” A growth mindset risks asking if they would like to FaceTime even though you’re concerned you won’t be much help.
Struggling with new parenthood, fixed mindset uses SM to affirm you’re a good parent by posting photos of the perfect baby. Growth mindset ventures to text a fellow parent to meet for coffee, then share mutual difficulties and exchange ideas about how to cope.
Fixed mindset uses SM to follow posts of that perfect celebrity online. A growth mindset takes a chance and signs up for a dating app to risk a relationship with someone who is merely human.
A fixed mindset approach to SM connections is easy but limiting. A growth mindset uses SM and offline occasions to approach new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Effort, rejection, and disappointment are expected and signal you are stretching toward new and lasting friendships.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.
Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751–768.
O’Day, E. & Heimberg, R. (2021). Social media use, social anxiety, and loneliness: A systematic review. Computers in Human Behavior Reports. 3. 100070. 10.1016/j.chbr.2021.100070.