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) .
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 .
Health-related internet use: disturbing for whom?
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.
 Havighurst, R. J. (1972). Developmental tasks and education. New York: David McKay Company.
 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.) https://doi.org/10.1080/17405629.2022.2135501