Teen Social Media Statistics 2021 (What Parents Need to Know)

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Teen Social Media Statistics 2021 (What Parents Need to Know)

February 25, 2020
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Table of Contents

Teen Social Media Statistics 2021 (What Parents Need to Know) Expert Guest Blog SmartSocial.com

A survey from Common Sense Media sheds light on teens' changing social media habits and why some kids are more deeply affected by -- and connected to -- their digital worlds. The survey showcases how social media has evolved since 2012. It will come as no surprise to many parents and educators that social media use among tweens and teens has increased dramatically in the United States.

Listen to this episode on our podcast:

The latest teen social media statistics

  • 65% of parents surveyed by Pew Researchers said they worry about their kids spending too much time in front of screens
  • YouTube was the most used social media app among teens in 2019, followed by Instagram and Snapchat, according to Statista
  • TikTok became the fastest growing new app for American teens in 2019. 60% of TikTok users were ages 16 to 24, according to Business of Apps
  • The Common Sense Census studied smartphone use among American teens and found:
  • In 2015, 24% of kids ages 8 - 12 had their own smartphone. In just four years, that number went up to 41%
  • In 2015, 67% of teens ages 13 - 18 had their own smartphone. By 2019, the number climbed to 84%
  • The average 8 to 12 year-old American kid spent four hours and 44 minutes looking at screens each day in 2019
  • American teens, ages 13 to 18, used entertainment screen media for an average of seven hours and 22 minutes each day in 2019

5 experts share social media statistics and advice for parents

As more teens head online to socialize, researchers are discovering some disturbing new trends. Nearly all teens now have access to a smartphone. With so much information, competition, and peer pressure now at their fingertips, experts worry the technology is taking a toll. We consulted with some experts about some of the latest social media statistics and how the latest trends could be impacting your students.

1. Students are receiving their first phone around the time they enter the stage of human development where peer engagement is critical

Kathryn Ely, JD, MA, ALC, MA, Attorney & Masters of Arts in Clinical Mental Health

American youth are receiving their first phone right around the time they enter the stage of human development where peer engagement is critical. Teens use social media to explore social comparison, highlight the aspects of themselves they see as positive, and for self-disclosure. 

Teens can use social media to enhance their social development. But teens can also be negatively impacted by their own social media use. Social media use can also lead to cyberbullying, social anxiety, depression, and exposure to content that is not developmentally appropriate.

How can we make sure our children are using social media in a positive way that strengthens their self-esteem and connections with peers, which are so crucial in this stage of development?

Model the behavior we want to see in them:
  • Avoid oversharing on social media. Ask our teens before we post about them
  • Have designated times every day when we shut down our devices and fully and intentionally engage in face to face contact, so our teens are learning verbal and non-verbal cues that are so important in communication
  • Giving teens our full attention when they talk to us and avoid glancing at our devices
  • Set clear, firm boundaries right when you give an adolescent a phone: The phone must be charged somewhere other than in the teen’s room at night. The phone will be shut off an hour before bed for good sleep hygiene. A parent has passwords and monitors social media use until he or she is comfortable the teen is using it in a healthy manner
  • Foster the teen's self-esteem on and off social media by supporting his/her positive inner qualities, rather than promoting popularity and appearances
Conversation starters for parents:
  • The most important thing to know about starting conversations with teens is to be present and look for the opportunities they give us. Lecturing every time you get in the car will not get you anywhere. Listen when your teen talks and asks questions. If you are talking and your teen mentions a friend shared something on social media, ask your teen “What do you think is too much to share?” and insert your opinion in a caring, understanding way
  • Have conversations with your children about being intentional with social media, devices having a time and place, and making good choices for their future
  • Remind your teen that everyone reviews social media sites, whether it’s a college admissions officer or a person interviewing them for a job

Sources: Pediatrics, Pew Internet, and Common Sense Media 

2. One in three children have been cyberbullied

Chelsea Brown, Digital Mom Talk 

One in three children are cyberbullied and 70% of children say they have cyberbullied someone online. It's becoming a growing problem with parents and children. However, cyberbullying is not a major concern for many parents since they aren't even sure what is classified as cyberbullying or when cyberbullying crosses legal lines.

Being an active and positive bystander is proven to be very effective to prevent bullying, but teens do not know how to do so online and are more likely to respond when the bullies are persistent. Many students refuse to call cyberbullies out as the tactics intensify, for fear of being included as well.

Studies are also being done to show that cyberbullying is more damaging than normal bullying. This is due to the tactics of cyberbullying being along the lines of psychological warfare for kids. The constant contact, appearance of multiple targets, and the aspect of most cyberbullying being based on bullying in real life, has many children facing a semi-silent and unconquerable battle.

Sources: Enough.org, Cyberbullying.org, Wiley Online Library, SpringerLink 

3. Only half of parents with studens ages 5 to 15 use parental controls 

Paul Grattan, Law Enforcement Supervisor

Only half of the parents of kids ages 5-15 use parental controls, other content filters, or blockers. Of those who do not, the number one reason cited is that they trust their kids' online behavior. This is interesting because 9 out of 10 parents who do use them, find they block the right amount of content. This data comes from a 2017 Ofcom (Office of Communications UK) research report.

At the same time, I caution this is only a basic first step. While most parents trust their children online, the nature of predatory behavior by bad actors can influence even the savviest and most trustworthy teen.

That's truly the nature of today's online threat - outside influences and actors. Much of the danger of increased connectivity and technology does not lie directly in the hands of our teens and their overt behavior, but rather in their susceptibility to influences and pressure.

4. Half of people ages 14 to 24 have experienced technologically abusive behavior

Alexandra Boscolo, Day One

Today's teens are constantly online, and abusers always find new ways to stalk and harass their targets.

Here are some important statistics from Day One:

  • 50% of people ages 14-24 have experienced technologically abusive behavior
  • 22% of people ages 14-24 in dating relationships say they feel like their partner checks up on them too often
  • A 2013 study found that the most frequent form of harassment or abuse was tampering with a partner’s social networking account without permission. Nearly 1 in 10 teens in relationships report having this happen to them in the past year
  • In the same survey, 7% of teens reported that their partner sent them texts/emails/etc. to engage in unwanted sexual acts. And 7% of teens reported being pressured to send a sexual or naked photo of themselves

5. Many Instagram accounts are fake and could pose a threat to students

Johnny Santiago, Social Catfish (tool to verify if people are really who they say they are online) 

According to a study by Italian security researchers, 8% of Instagram accounts are fake. Instagram is one of the most popular social media apps teens use.

This poses a risk and danger to teenagers from online catfishers. People behind the fake accounts can scam teens out of their money or even blackmail them. A catfisher is a person who creates a fake identity on a social network, usually with the intention of deceiving a specific victim. With this in mind, parents and teens alike should learn the signs that the person they're talking to online is a catfisher.

Technology distracts teens from friends and other important things

  • 57% of all teens agree that using social media often distracts them when they should be doing homework
  • 54% of teen social media users agree that it often distracts them when they should be paying attention to the people they’re with
  • 29% of teen smartphone owners say they’ve been woken up by their phones during the night by a call, text, or notification
  • 42% of teens agree that social media has taken away from time they could spend with friends in person

The value of face-to-face interactions is decreasing, according to social media statistics

Teens' favorite way of communicating

In-Person: 49%(2012) 32% (2018)

Texting33% (2012) 35% (2018)

Social Media 7% (2012) 16% (2018)

Video-Chatting 2% (2012) 10% (2018)

What happens online, stays online

  • 54% of teens said they’d be a lot more worried about social media if their parents knew exactly what was doing on online

Teens are much more likely to say social media has a positive, rather than negative, effect on how they feel

  • 25% of teens says it makes them feel less lonely
  • 16% of teens says it makes them feel less depressed
  • 12% of teens says it makes them feel less anxious
  • 20% of teens says it makes them feel more confident
  • 18% of teens says it makes them feel more better about themselves
  • 21% of teens says it makes them feel more popular

Teens with low social-emotional well-being experience more negative effects of social media than kids with high social-emotional well-being

% of social media users who say they:

Sometimes feel left out or excluded when using social media"
70% (low social-emotional well-being)  29% (high social-emotional well-being)

Have deleted social media posts because they got too few ”likes:
”43% (low social-emotional well-being) 13% (high social-emotional well-being)

Feel bad about themselves if no one comments on or likes their posts:
43% (low social-emotional well-being) 11% (high social-emotional well-being)

Have ever been cyberbullied:
35% (low social-emotional well-being) 5% (high social-emotional well-being)

% who say using social media makes them feel:

13% (More) 39% (Less)

11% (More) 29% (Less)

Better/Worse about themselves:
22% (Better) 15% (Worse)

What can parents do?

Parents need to teach students how to manage their screen time, what can (and can’t) be posted online, the consequences of making mistakes on social media, and how to value offline activities over negative social media habits.

If your student doesn’t have access to social media or a device yet, help them prepare for their future digital footprint:

  • Don’t give your student a tablet or their first smartphone without having a conversation with them about digital safety
  • Talk with your student about what kind of content can be shared on social media and which social media networks they can use
  • Consider creating a family cell phone agreement that outlines all of the rules around safe cell phone use. If you need a template, we have one in the Smart Social Membership
  • Help your student set up their profiles on the networks you decide are safe for your family. We recommend using apps in our Smart Social Green Zone to build a positive digital footprint
  • Consistently monitor their online activity and have your own profiles on the same social networks they use
  • If you see negative behavior, don’t wait for the incident to get worse before talking to your student

If your student struggles with managing their screen time, help them develop a healthier relationship with their devices:

  • Lead by example and be the digital role model they need. If you don’t want your student constantly on their phone, then make sure you unplug when you want them to unplug
  • Instead of taking their devices away, set ground rules. Ensure that your student understands the consequences of not following the guidelines. This can empower students to self-regulate their screen time
  • Some parents make screen time an earned activity. Once your child has finish their chores, homework, or a physical activity, then they can earn some screen time
  • Help your student find offline activities they enjoy and would be proud to share with future employers or college admissions officers. Extracurricular activities can be great additions to your student’s resume and can also help generate content to share on social media
  • Teach your children to use social media as a tool, instead of just as a pastime
  • Set up visual timers so students know how much screen time they can expect
  • Collect all of your family’s cell phones before bed each night and charge them in a specific place to avoid having your student check their phone all night
  • Always be on the apps that your student uses and monitor their activity. Use their behavior to have regular discussions around social media safety


Students' social media use and screen time has increased drastically in the last decade. While the negative effects of social media on teens can be serious, it's impossible for parents to keep their teens offline forever. Instead, it’s important for parents to help their student prepare for a life in the digital world.

If your student doesn't have access to social media yet, or if they spend too much time looking at screens, there are steps parents can take to help them develop a healthy relationship with screen time.

Understanding the trends of teen social media use and following the steps above will help your student build a positive digital footprint.

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