Investigating the Association Between Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) and the Health of Canadian Young People: A Mixed Methods Study

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Favotto, Lindsay
adolescent health , computer-mediated communication , loneliness , social media
Canadian young people are increasingly more connected through technological devices. This computer-mediated communication (CMC) can result in heightened connection and social support but can also lead to inadequate personal and physical connections. As technology evolves, its influence on health and well-being is important to investigate, especially among youth. This study aims to investigate the potential influences of computer-mediated communication (CMC) on the health of Canadian youth, using both quantitative and qualitative research approaches. This mixed-methods study utilized data from the 2013-2014 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey for Canada (n=30,117) and focus group data involving Ontario youth (7 groups involving 40 youth). In the quantitative component, a random-effects multilevel Poisson regression was employed to identify the effects of CMC on loneliness, stratified to explore interaction with family communication quality. A qualitative, inductive content analysis was applied to the focus group transcripts using a grounded theory inspired methodology. Through open line-by-line coding followed by axial coding, main categories and themes were identified. The quality of family communication modified the association between CMC use and loneliness. Among youth experiencing the highest quartile of family communication, daily use of verbal and social media CMC was significantly associated with reports of loneliness. The qualitative analysis revealed two overarching concepts that: (1) the health impacts of CMC are multidimensional and (2) there exists a duality of both positive and negative influences of CMC on health. Four themes were identified within this framework: (1) physical activity, (2) mental and emotional disturbance, (3) mindfulness, and (4) relationships. Overall, there is a high proportion of loneliness among Canadian youth, but this is not uniform for all. The associations between CMC and health are influenced by external and contextual factors, including family communication quality. Further, the technologically rich world in which young people live has a diverse impact on their health. For youth, their relationships with others and the context of CMC use shape overall influences on their health.
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