It has been argued that in order to study both the positive and negative impact of social media usage holistically, we must focus on identity development. The current study examined social media usage in relation to identity development, identity distress, and peer attachment. We collected data through an online anonymous survey from 849 young adults recruited from a large metropolitan university in the southeastern United States. Although social media usage was related to higher levels of identity distress, lower levels of identity development, and less peer attachment, results varied by sex and reasons for spending time on social media. Using it to avoid face-to-face contact or to create false identities was related to problematic development, whereas using it to post photos was related to positive development. The use of avatars was particularly negative for women, associated with lower identity development and greater identity distress. In addition to using gross measures of social media usage such as time spent, research might benefit from further investigating the “why” and “how” social media is used. This might yield important avenues for intervention and prevention programs aimed at positive youth development.

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