Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Ewa McGrail, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Nadia Behizadeh, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Amy Seely Flint, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Ann Kruger, Ph.D.

Fifth Advisor

Michelle Zoss, Ph.D.


Teens, including young teens, are using digital tools, including social networking sites at a rapidly growing pace (Madden, Lenhart, & Duggan, 2013). However, few studies have addressed the social networking practices of young teens. In this study, I attempted to address a gap in the current literature by investigating the online identity construction of a 14 year-old female who avidly participated on social networking sites. The purpose of this study was to examine a mid-adolescent’s use of social networking and what this use might reveal about her identity construction. The following questions guided the research:

• What are a mid-adolescent’s thoughts as she decides what to post on social networking sites to represent herself?

• What do the tools and social practices she uses reveal about her online identity construction?

• What kinds of identities does she present on social networking sites?

This study was grounded in a sociocultural understanding of language, particularly that language and thought are culturally derived (Vygotsky, 1986) constructs that shape and are shaped by human activity (Cole, 2003; Wertsch, 1991). Through a sociocultural view of identity, I recognized that identity is a social construct in which mid-adolescents often experience conflict (Harter, 2012) as they try to integrate a fragmented, or “kaleidoscopic” (p. 94) sense of self into a cohesive sense of self.

I used a qualitative single case study design (Merriam, 2009) to investigate the social networking practices of the participant. Data collection included semi-structured interviews; think-aloud verbal protocols while using social networking sites; informal phone or instant messaging interactions between the participant and researcher; participant and researcher journals; and participant’s posts to social networking sites. Using a systematic recursive qualitative method (LeCompte, 2000) informed by Saldaña’s (2009) coding recommendations, I found that the participant adhered to perceived online social conventions and used a variety of digital literacy tools to present socially acceptable filtered identities across three Social Networking Sites (SNS). Findings suggest that a mid-adolescent would benefit from opportunities to use digital communication skills in school to present an academic identity in school-related online spaces.