Explore the phenomenon: Social media as a promoter and challenger of well-being for young people

Learning material about social media and how it can work both as a builder and challenger of young people's well-being. With the help of the text, video and tasks, find out what the teacher and the student need to know about this phenomenon.

The effects of social media on well-being are individual. Social media both challenges and produces well-being. How one acts of social media matters when considered from the point of view of well-being. On social media, psychological well-being is promoted by active agency, the production of personal content and interaction, including participation in the activities and goals of a group. Peer support and encouraging positive feedback also promote well-being. On the other hand, well-being can be jeopardised by passively consuming social media.

On social media, the well-being of young people can be jeopardised by things such as bullying, hate speech, experiences of exclusion and pressures related to the creation of perfect posts. Although the artificial character and imperfections of social media are well-known by young people, making comparisons between oneself and others may be difficult to avoid.

Identity refers to a people’s understanding about themselves. It has a significant impact on a person’s well-being. Identity develops throughout one’s life, but trying to figure it out and finding one’s direction in life are some of the most important developmental processes of a young person’s life. Social media forms a meaningful environment for many young people and thus creates one central platform for building an identity. Having a digital identity may be an important part of identity.

In addition to being built in relation to other types of content, identity is formed through one’s own actions and content production. Social media also broadens the scope for finding a meaningful reference group for oneself. Identity formation on social media is often related to the groups we feel we are part of and the people we identify with on social media.

In addition to active agency, having good self-esteem is a factor that supports well-being on social media. Although self-esteem may seem like something personal, it is first and foremost a social phenomenon, just like identity. A culture of inclusion, acceptance and encouragement is essential to building a good self-esteem on social media as well. Interaction is not always easy or straightforward on digital platforms since anonymity or indirectness may stand in the way of empathy. However, everyone is able to make good conscious choices that support one’s own well-being as well as that of others on social media as well.

In the everyday school life, it is important to pay attention to measures that facilitate media literacy and identity development and thus promote the overall well-being of young individuals who are shaping their identities and self-esteem in digital environments. Conscious examination and discussions on the significance of social media support not only media literacy but also people’s understanding about the effects of digital culture on well-being.

Recommended links:

Infographic: The hand of mental health and media (MIELI Mental Health Finland & The Finnish Society on Media Education)

Text: Rauna Rahja, Osuuskunta Dadamedia

Image: Siru Tirronen


The media landscape of children and young people keeps changing, with new phenomena following each other back-to-back. Providing pupils with tools for understanding and processing these phenomena is important. This learning package is part of Pathways to New Media Phenomena – Information and Exercise Materials Series. The series includes information and exercises for the teacher and the pupils. You can explore new phenomena in a meaningful way with the help of the How to discuss new media literacy phenomena through pedagogical means method. 

CC BY 4.0

Material for the teacher

  • The video demonstrates social media use that can either promote or jeopardise the well-being of young people. Above all, well-being is viewed from the viewpoints of identity formation and self-esteem. The video has English subtitles.

    Consider the following questions:

    How does social media challenge or strengthen the identities and self-esteem of young people?

    What tools do young people need to support their well-being while on social media and how can these be strengthened in teaching?


    Video: Rauna Rahja (Osuuskunta Dadamedia)

    Editing: Keltamusta Media

  • Teachers do not need to be experts and skilled at everything. Having a good control over one’s own speciality and pedagogics and being curious and enthusiastic about learning new things provide a great starting point for tackling new media phenomena. Approach to processing new media literacy phenomena encourages you to use your own expertise and competence when working with various phenomena.

    Examine the model and consider the following questions:

    • Based on your experience, what challenges does discussing new media literacy phenomena entail?
    • What things support the discussing of new phenomena in your own work?
    • How would you utilise the model to discuss the phenomenon at hand?
  • Media literacy is a transversal competence, whose promotion is required by the core curriculum of basic education (2014).

    The objectives based on the core curriculum have been expressed separately for each school grade in the national descriptions of media literacy (the New Literacies development programme 2021). Basic education concerns the descriptions of good and advanced competences. The descriptions clarify the meaning of media literacy and the related objectives expressed in the core curriculum texts. The descriptions have been divided into three main areas: media interpretation and evaluation, media production and acting in media environments. You can learn more about the descriptions here.

    Consider the following questions:

    • How is the phenomenon under discussion structured in the media literacy competence descriptions?
    • What kind of media literacy skills do the pupils learn in connection with discussing the topic?
  • You can refer to the materials of KAVI and the New Literacies development programme for support in the promotion of media literacy.

    Media Literacy School (mediataitokoulu.fi) The Media Literacy School website brings together various learning resources and materials for the media education purposes of different age groups also in English.

    The Media Literacy School – New Literacies brings together a range of materials that were created within the development programme to support the media education of basic education. The materials produced in the programme can be found on the open learning materials website at AOE.fi.

Material for the pupil

  • Social media influences each user in a different way. Social media aims at rousing various feelings and experiences, which sometimes be positive and other times negative. Every now and then, you should stop and think what the overall purpose of social media is for you and what things in your use of social media promote positive and negative feelings. Sharing the thoughts that social media sparks in you is also a good idea. How do various types of content, images, texts and the actions of other users affect you? How do your own actions on social media affect others? Self-esteem and identity are also constructed through the interaction of social media. For many, social media is an important platform that enables self-reflection and self-expression. Who am I, what do I want to become and how is all this reflected in my actions on social media?

    Text: Rauna Rahja

  • You can discuss the topic by choosing reflection exercise 1 or 2.

    Reflection exercise 1:

    Thinking about the way we act strengthens our well-being and understanding about ourselves as users of social media. You should be aware of how the use of social media channels that are important to you affects your mental well-being, self-esteem, self-image and social relations both on and off the web. Social media allows you to try out different roles and to choose, what things about yourself you share with others. Think about how you express yourself and your identity on social media.

    • Which social media platforms do you use?
    • What is the image you want to create about yourself on the social media channels you use?
    • What things have you revealed about yourself on various social media services?
    • How carefully and consciously do you think about the content you publish or share?
    • Is there something you do not want to share? Why?
    • Who do you make your posts for? Do you limit your audience in any way? Why?
    • Who else influence the way you are portrayed on social media? What do you think about that?
    • Examine your profile in a social media service you use. What do the latest three posts on a social media channel you use tell about you? If others look at them, what can they find out about you?


    Reflection exercise 2:

    Social media is a platform used to build identity. It is important that you know how to evaluate the effects that various media content and phenomena present in social media environments may have on the thinking and actions of individuals and groups. Consider social media and its effects on your own identity and choices.

    • How would you describe the types of content you have encountered in the various social media services?
    • What type of content speaks to you the most?
    • What types of people or groups do you identify with on social media? Who do you follow or admire and why?
    • What role does social media play in the choices you make in your daily life and life in general?
    • How do the actions of your friends, various communities and influencers on social media affect you?
    • How do you influence others?

    Text: Rauna Rahja (Osuuskunta Dadamedia)

  • Select one of the exercises below:

    1.Social media snapshot

    It is beneficial to know how to use media and make choices in a way that promote your well-being. Everyone experiences the use of social media in their own way. The following exercise is designed to make you think about the thoughts and feelings social media generates.

    Tools: phones and other devices that can be used for taking photos.
    Duration: 15 minutes
    Instructions: The exercise should be done very quickly and intuitively in just a couple of minutes. The idea is to find out what the person’s initial reaction (thought or feeling) to social media is. Either alone or with a partner, find one thing, object, colour or some other element nearby that reflects the first thought or feeling you get when you think about the words “social media”. Take a photo of the thing you choose. The thing or object in the photo does not have to be related to social media or online usage. It can be anything at all, as long as it says something about your gut reaction or depicts the first feeling you have about social media.

    Finally, introduce your pictures to the others and discuss them. What feelings seem to come up?

    If moving around in the class room or its vicinity is not possible, the exercise can be done by taking a picture of your own or your partner’s face, showing the expression that best depicts the feeling social media raises in you.

    2. Social media groups have identities too

    Over time, social media communities often acquire an identity and interactive culture of their own, which then somehow influences the thought processes and actions of the members of the group. This exercise examines the identity, communicative practices, ideals and values of a chosen social media community as well as the opinions that emerge within the group.

    Supplies: –

    Duration: 15 minutes
    Instructions: By yourself or with a partner, choose a familiar, big or small social media group, gaming community or some other forum on social media. Reflect on and describe the identity of the selected community using the following questions.

    •  What kinds of things does the group, account or community discuss?
    • What topics are talked about and what is the tone of the discussion?
    • What types of content do the members produce and share with the group?
    • What do and do they not reveal about themselves?
    • What things are highlighted in the identity of the group?
    • What attitudes and world views are brought to the fore in the group?
    • Is the group membership compulsory or voluntary?
    • What opinions are accepted in the group?
    • How has the group’s conversational culture come about?
    • What roles does the group feature, who are vocal and who stay in the background?
    • Why are you part of the group or why do you follow it?
    • To what extent does the identity or value of the group correspond with your own+

    3. The good, the bad, and social media
    Everyone can for their part influence the communicational environment of social media by paying attention to how they act. Good interaction on social media is based on dialogue, which is both conversational and attentive to other people’s views. Empathy, the aim to understand the other person and things such as taking action against bullying promote a positive atmosphere and well-being on social media. Think about the elements of interaction on social media and how they promote 1) negative and 2) positive thinking.

    Tools: digital or traditional note taking equipment

    Duration: 15 minutes
    Instructions: In pairs, create two different ‘recipes’ for producing a particular piece of social media content. The first set of instructions affects the well-being of users in a negative way and the second one enhances it. Select your preferred social media content or publication format for your recipes. The selected content can be a TikTok or YouTube video, a comment in a gaming community or discussion forum, a snap, a tweet, a reel, a Jodel post, blog entry or some other type of content of your choosing.

    • What and how many ingredients do you need for content that promotes well-being and enhances your mood?
    • What and how many ingredients do you need to create content that promotes negativity and bad feelings?

    Write down your recipes and present them to the other pairs.

    Text: Rauna Rahja, Osuuskunta Dadamedia

  • Examine the picture and answer the following questions:

    • In the pictures, what is being done with media?
    • What situations and messages that promote and jeopardise well-being can you recognise in the pictures?

    Text: KAVI

    Image: Siru Tirronen