Learning More From Adolescents Online Group (Selkie)

The Selkie research group seeks to identify ways to promote well-being for adolescents and young adults when using technology and digital media. Adolescence is a crucial developmental period in which skills and beliefs are developed and carried into adulthood. With the ubiquity of the Internet and social media, adolescents have many opportunities to use these technologies for positive development, but also can be at risk for harm.  In 2015, Dr. Selkie, an Adolescent Medicine specialist, started the Learning More from Adolescents Online (LMFAO) Research Team at the University of Michigan and has recently moved the lab to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our work uses a positive youth development lens to examine how technology and digital media relate to socioemotional well-being. We are specifically interested in decreasing negative social media activities and amplifying positive social media activities for marginalized adolescents, including sexual and gender minority (SGM) youth. Youth voice and direct observation of social media activities are at the core of our team’s research methods.

Ellen Selkie, MD
Ellen Selkie, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor

UW Health-Find a Doctor

Grant Support


Research Staff

Current Projects

Implications for Socio-Emotional Well-Being from Adolescent Behavior on Social Media

Social media use is ubiquitous among adolescents and is often used as a tool for socializing with peers. Adolescent socioemotional wellbeing is often driven by peer relationships and interactions, yet there is a paucity of research examining day-to-day social media behavior among adolescents, their predictors, and their prospective associations with adolescent socioemotional well-being. This research project tests a model in which childhood traits predict a trajectory of social media behavior in early adolescence, which in turn predicts a range of socioemotional well-being indicators in the middle adolescent years.

We use an ethnographic approach to characterize participants’ social media activities by following them on their social media accounts, immersing in their social media feeds, and taking field notes that ultimately contribute to development of novel social media behavior archetypes. We pair these archetypes with data on participants’ childhood temperament to determine predicators of social media behavior, and with prospectively collected survey data to determine longitudinal effects of social media behavior on socioemotional well-being. This study will identify opportunities throughout childhood and adolescence in which social media can be used as a platform to promote adolescent socioemotional well-being.

Social Media Experiences of Transgender and Gender Diverse Youth and their Parents

Over 150,000 adolescents in the United States identify as transgender or gender diverse (TGGD). TGGD youth are at high risk for mental health problems, and social support is critical for mitigating this risk. TGGD youth who are affirmed in their gender identities have similar rates of mental health concerns as the general population of adolescents. However, the affirmation and support youth receive can come from multiple places. Parental and peer support are crucial factors in affirmation of gender identity, and social media platforms are also being used by TGGD youth for social support. In particular, informational support from social media may be an important factor in gender identity exploration and knowledge of medical interventions such as hormonal treatment and surgeries.

TGGD youth report following popular social media content creators, or “influencers,” on various social media platforms and finding information and inspiration from these individuals. However, empiric analysis of information found in TGGD influencer content is largely unknown. In the first part of this study, we will perform a content analysis of social media posts to describe the ways that popular TGGD role models, also known as influencers, discuss gender identity development and gender affirmation through medical and nonmedical means. The perspectives of TGGD youth on the topic of influencers are unknown, as are specific parental reflections on TGGD-related digital content. The overarching goal of this proposal is to examine TGGD influencer content from multiple angles including through content analysis of social media feeds of TGGD-identified individuals, and through qualitative interviews with TGGD youth and their parents. This knowledge would improve the ability of health care providers and other professionals who work with youth to provide anticipatory guidance and education to youth and parents regarding social media and gender identity.

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