Adolescent using smartphone alone

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, teens felt more socially connected after interacting with peers online. Image credit: Kathy Bugajsky

By Ria Sharma

During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and school closures drastically limited adolescents’ in-person social interactions but did not curtail their ability to communicate through texting, calling, and social media. A Winston National Center study examined how various forms of communication related to adolescents’ feelings of social connectedness during the early stages of the pandemic. 

WNC researchers, led by PhD student Shedrick Garrett, surveyed 207 U.S. adolescents between May and September 2020, which was during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Each participant spent two weeks answering questions three times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening) about their feelings of social connectedness and whether they had interacted with a friend or romantic partner in the last hour through social media, text messaging, phone calls, video calls, or in person.

Forty percent of the participants reported no in-person interactions over the course of the study surveys. Text messaging was the most common form of social interaction, followed by social media use. Girls communicated through texting and social media more often than boys did, and boys talked on the phone more than girls did. 

In order to focus on the effects of digital interactions, the researchers statistically accounted for the effects of in-person interactions. Regardless of whether they interacted with someone in person, adolescents felt more socially connected when they had recently communicated with their peers through video chatting, texting, or social media.

The researchers also found that boys – but not girls –  who talked on the phone, texted, or video-called more than their peers did reported greater social connectedness. This gender difference may be because boys especially benefit from the increased opportunities for bonding through digital interactions with peers. 

Social connectedness gives adolescents a sense of companionship and belonging, and it can be beneficial for mental health. This study shows that digital interactions can bring these valuable feelings of social connectedness, which may be especially important when their opportunities for in-person interactions are limited.


While this study sample was racially and ethnically diverse, participants were drawn from one geographic area in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects may be experienced differently for different people across the U.S. and around the world. Additionally, while this study collected several data points from each participant, three measures per day does not completely capture their full experiences. Future studies could use even more frequent surveys to pinpoint just how long feelings of social connectedness can be boosted by online interactions.

Article reference

Garrett, S.L., Burnell, K., Armstrong-Carter, E.L., Prinstein, M.J., & Telzer, E.H. (2023). Linking video chatting, phone calling, text messaging, and social media with peers to adolescent connectednessJournal of Research on Adolescence, 1222-1234.