Association of social media use and high-risk behaviors in adolescents: Cross-sectional study

Teresa Vente*, Mary Daley, Elizabeth Killmeyer, Laura K. Grubb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Previous studies have demonstrated the prevalence of social media use and identified the presence of high-risk behaviors among adolescents, including self-harm and sharing of sexually explicit messages. Objective: This study aimed to identify patterns in the amount of time spent on social media by adolescents who engage in high-risk behavior and the extent to which they use social media as a platform for sharing such behaviors. Methods: This was a descriptive cross-sectional study of 179 adolescents seen in a pediatric clinic at an urban medical center. We used an anonymous self-report survey to obtain demographic characteristics, rates of self-harm thoughts and behaviors, sharing of sexually explicit messages, and social media use as determined by total hours spent on social media per day and the number of applications used. Results: Most adolescents reported spending 3 to 5 hours on social media each day and using 3 or more social media applications. Almost 1 in 8 (22/179, 12.3%) adolescents self-reported having ever engaged in self-injury with a mean age of onset of 11.8 years. Over a quarter (49/179, 27.4%) of adolescents reported sharing sexually explicit messages. Relative risk of engaging in self-injury and or sharing sexually explicit messages increased with the use of 4 or more social media applications (1.66; CI 1.11-2.48). Conclusions: Results show a relationship between the number of social media applications used and increased rates of high-risk behaviors. We identified relevant risk factors that clinicians can use to screen for high-risk behavior and parents can monitor to encourage education about healthy online practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere18043
JournalJMIR Pediatrics and Parenting
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Nonsuicidal self-injury
  • Self-harm
  • Sexting
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Biomedical Engineering


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