Skip to content
Photo by Toomas Liivamägi.
Report CO:RE Short Report on Key Topics CO:RE at UTARTU Published: 06 Dec 2022

Growing up in a tech-heavy era: How online activities relate to adolescents’ well-being?

Each developmental stage in human life is marked by specific tasks and challenges. Their successful achievement contributes to well-being and serves as a background for further development. Babies need to learn to crawl, and toddlers to walk. Children throw tantrums for their future selves’ ability to regulate their emotions. In adolescence, we are expected to discover in depth who we are. Teenagers explore their bodies and sexuality, experiment with first romantic relationships, and grow durable ones with peers [1].

Time for a new framework


Nowadays, the online and offline worlds are intertwined, and digital technologies can help adolescents with their developmental needs in several ways. Friends and families will stay in touch online, and online relationships may easily develop into offline ones. The internet may facilitate interesting and important information, otherwise unavailable. And yes, heaps of risky or harmful content and behaviours as well. Thankfully, significant others may help mitigate stressful experiences. It is easy to conclude that digital technologies provide both opportunities and threats connected to adolescent needs. For scientists, this is a complex and vague field of research that needs a solid theoretical frame which accommodates the million pieces that make up teenagers' unique relationship with technology.

A new theoretical framework that integrates the media theoretical perspective with insights from developmental and health psychology is relevant and timely. Therefore, we proposed the Integrative Model of ICTs Effects on adolescents' Well-being (iMEW) [2].

The model helps us examine digital technologies with regard to adolescents’ developmental tasks and well-being. More about this framework can be found in our recent short report.

The iMEW is a causal model to examine online activities in relation to the developmental tasks of adolescence. In the iMEW, susceptibility variables (such as individual characteristics, social relationships and cultural context) determine and shape adolescents’ online activities which, in turn, impact their short- and long-term well-being outcomes. To follow the logic of the model, take a moment and see the figure below. If you want to fully understand the model, we suggest you make yourself a cup of tea and read the short report, perhaps even the underpinning article [2].  


Figure 1: The conceptual Integrative Model of ICTs Effects on adolescents’ Well-being (iMEW) [2]
Note: The list is not exhaustive and the specific variables that we mention in the boxes are only examples.

To give an empirical example of the iMEW model in action: we aimed to identify the individual characteristics that may contribute to 1) seeking online health-related content, and 2) COVID-19 anxiety (a stress reaction) among adolescents during the pandemic.

It is known from previous research that engaging with online content related to health can be helpful and satisfy one’s information needs. At the same time, health-related content can be disturbing and worrisome. Among others, the kind of response depends on the user who engages in this type of information. We expected three factors to be associated with increased frequency of health-related internet use:

  • health anxiety (a trait), 

  • eHealth literacy - self-perceived ability to work with online health-related information (a cognition)

  • direct experience with COVID-19 infection (social context).

From these three factors, higher health anxiety and eHealth literacy were related to more frequent health-related internet use. Also, we found a significant link between health-related internet use and COVID-19 anxiety only for those adolescents with higher health anxiety.

The iMEW proved to be useful in the identification of the susceptibility variables related to health-related internet use in this study. Also, it helped us to examine who might be more likely to experience plunges in their well-being (e.g., COVID-19 anxiety) during the pandemic. In this study, it was adolescents with high health anxiety - possibly due to their media use patterns which could be a topic for a further study. In the future, the iMEW could be helpful in many other topics such as meeting strangers online, pornography and sexuality, or body image.

  1. [1] Havighurst, R. J. (1972). Developmental tasks and education. New York: David McKay Company.

  2. image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos [2] Smahel, D., Gulec, H., Lokajova, A., Dedkova, L., & Machackova, H. (2022). The Integrative Model of ICT Effects on Adolescents’ Well-being (iMEW): The synthesis of theories from developmental psychology, media and communications, and health. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. (Advanced online.)

Share this post:

(Guest) authors


Adéla Lokajová

Adéla Lokajová, MA is a PhD student of psychology at the Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University and a junior researcher at the Interdisciplinary Research Team on Internet and Society. She focuses on internet use and digital technologies related to health. Additionally, she works on literature reviews of the impact of ICTs on adolescent well-being. See her projects and publications here.


Hayriye Gulec

Hayriye Gulec, PhD is an assistant professor at the Department of Psychology at Bursa Uludag University and a post-doctoral researcher at the Interdisciplinary Research Team on Internet and Society at Masaryk University. Her research interests centre on e-mental health, psychotherapy research, stigma, digital media use and well-being. See her projects and publications here.

Team member, CO:RE at UTARTU

Maria Murumaa-Mengel

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is working as an associate professor of media studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia. She is involved in research focusing mainly on young people’s use (and non-use, going “off the grid”) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn) and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). She is a member of the Work Package 4 team and contributes to editing CO:RE blog posts. See her publications here.


David Smahel

David Smahel, PhD is a professor at the Faculty of Social Studies and the Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University, the Czech Republic. He is the leader of the Interdisciplinary Research Team on Internet and Society, which researches social-psychological implications of the internet and technology. His current research focuses on adolescents’ and adults’ internet use, the online risks of children and adolescents, the construction of online identities and virtual relationships, online addictive behaviour, and online research methods. He is an editor of Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace and has co-authored the book Digital Youth: The Role of Media in Development. See his projects and publications here.

University of Tartu
University of Tartu
Key Topics

The team at University of Tartu identifies and monitors the most relevant topics in the broad field of digital technologies in the lives of children and young people. In collaboration with experts from different disciplinary backgrounds, the team publishes a series of blog posts and short reports.

Beyond that, the team actively engages all main stakeholders, including academics and students, policy makers, professionals working with children and young people, caregivers, ICT industry and public media, to continuously report on their perceived hot topics and blind spots in the field.

Leave a comment

Required fields are marked with a *
Your email address will not be published.

Cookie preferences

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential, while others help us to improve this website and your experience.