Many of us have a love-hate relationship with social media, I know I certainly do. On one hand, I have found that it has enabled me to connect with people that I would have otherwise never met and to communities that have provided me with tremendous amounts of support. On the other hand, I recognize that it also has the potential to be an immense time-sucking, comparison-inducing, self-esteem crushing vortex of negativity. (OK, maybe that was a little harsh…but still). Social media usage has the potential to be both helpful and hurtful for adolescents and young adults. In this post, I’d like to talk about social media use: the good, the bad, and how adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients and survivors (you!) could use it to help optimize their well-being.
Social media use has rapidly grown over the past ten years, and rates of use are especially high among adolescents and young adults.1 In fact, there is data to suggest that 83% of people ages 18-29 use social media.2 Given the very high prevalence of social media use among adolescents and young adults, it is worth investigating the impacts that social media use may have on adolescent and young adult well-being.
Social media has the potential to facilitate connection. In one study, researchers interviewed 32 adolescents about their online interactions with friends.3 They found that casual online exchanges between adolescents and their friends helped to cultivate a sense of belonging. Furthermore, adolescents reported that social media helped them connect with peers, no matter where they were physically located or what time of day it was. Researchers have also discovered that social media has the potential to positively impact psychological well-being. In another study, researchers found that in comparison to their non-lonely peers, lonely adolescents were more likely to use online chat to discuss personal topics, and that this self-disclosure could cultivate feelings of social connectedness.4
There is also research to suggest that engaging with social media does not always lead to positive outcomes. In a study of 82 young adults, researchers discovered that the time these young adults spent using Facebook predicted negative shifts in how satisfied they were with their lives.5 Interestingly, “direct” interactions (for example, direct messaging) with other people on social networking sites did not negatively predict how satisfied the young adults were with their lives, however, these direct interactions actually enabled them to feel better over time. This suggests that how you engage with social media can differentially impact your well-being, which should feel empowering! You can make conscious efforts to ensure that your social media use, should you choose to engage with it, positively rather than negatively impacts your well-being.
You can make conscious efforts to ensure that your social media use, should you choose to engage with it, positively rather than negatively impacts your well-being.
Social Media and AYA Cancer Patients and Survivors
Social media may have the potential to be especially beneficial in that it can help facilitate connections between AYA cancer patients/survivors and other peers that have or have had cancer. Cancer often causes a huge life disruption for AYAs, and consequently, many miss out on the normative social-developmental experiences that their peers are having due to illness and treatment.6 Furthermore, many AYAs have reported that cancer enabled them to seek a new life outlook, feeling different than the person that they were pre-cancer7 and making it so that it was hard to reintegrate back into their pre-cancer lives. It is not surprising, then, that AYA cancer survivors often report trouble in keeping or making new social relationships8 and feeling misunderstood.
There is research to suggest that interacting with other AYA cancer patients/survivors may be especially important and beneficial to AYAs with cancer/cancer survivors. In fact, in one study, AYA cancer survivors valued interacting with other survivors significantly more than familial and friend support.9 These researchers found that the shared experience of cancer facilitated feelings of mutual understanding between survivors. Therefore, social media has the potential to be especially powerful in the lives of AYA cancer patients and survivors by connecting them to each other and making them feel more understood.
Social media has the potential to be especially powerful in the lives of AYA cancer patients and survivors by connecting them to each other and making them feel more understood.
There are various types of social media that can facilitate connection and mutual understanding between AYAs, and one research article10 has outlined a few that AYAs have successfully used:
Personal Websites or Blogs:
- The organization “Stupid Cancer” provides a directory that contains blogs of AYAs with cancer: https://blog.stupidcancer.org/the-complete-adolescent-young-adultcancer-blogroll-1a23753bae74#.ieyzwrpz6.
- Allow AYAs to ask cancer questions, share their experiences, and interact with other AYAs
- Stupid Cancer also has a list of message boards: http://stupidcancer.org/directories/forums.
- The HopeLab in San Francisco recently created this chatbot for AYA cancer survivors: https://www.vivibot.org/
Online Resources by AYAs
- Lacuna loft is a nonprofit organization that provides support programs to AYA cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. It was founded by Mallory who was diagnosed with cancer as a young adult (I have had the pleasure to meet her, and she is awesome!) : https://lacunaloft.org/
Unfortunately, I had no idea that these resources existed when I was diagnosed with cancer. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I felt devastated, shocked, and even though I was surrounded by family, completely alone. It hasn’t been until recently that I have started to meet and interact with other AYA cancer patients and survivors, and it has been such a powerful source of healing for me. With each one I have met, I truly do feel an unsaid, profound understanding. I wish I had known about these when I was first diagnosed, because I know that they would have provided me with such a source of comfort. I hope that these websites give you as much inspiration and relief as they have for me, and that you feel reminded that you have the power to use social media to optimize your own well-being. 🙂
- Duggan, M., and Smith, A. Social Media Update 2013. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2013.
- Madden, M.; Lenhart, A.; Duggan, M.; et al. Teens and Technology 2013. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2013b.
- Davis, K. (2013). Young people’s digital lives: The impact of interpersonal relationships and digital media use on adolescents’ sense of identity. Computers and Human Behavior, 29, 2281–2293.
- Bonetti, L., Campbell, M.A., & Gilmore, L. (2010). The relationship of loneliness and social anxiety with children’s and adolescents’ online communication. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13(3), 279–285.
- Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D., & Lin, N. et al. (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. Plos ONE, 8(8), e69841.
- Evan EE, Zeltzer LK. Psychosocial dimensions of cancer in adolescents and young adults. Cancer. 2006;107(7 Suppl):1663–71.
- Jones, B., Parker-Raley, J., & Barczyk, A. (2011). Adolescent Cancer Survivors: Identity Paradox and the Need to Belong. Qualitative Health Research, 21(8), 1033-1040.
- Zebrack B, Chesler MA, Kaplan S. To foster healing among adolescents and young adults with cancer: what helps? What hurts? Support Care Cancer. 2009;18(1):131–5.
- Zebrack B, Bleyer A, Albritton K, et al. Assessing the health care needs of adolescent and young adult cancer patients and survivors. Cancer. 2006;107(12):2915–23
- Chou, W., & Moskowitz, M. (2016). Social media use in adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer survivors. Current Opinion In Psychology, 9, 88-91