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.
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The latest teen social media statistics
- The Common Sense Census found in 2015, 24% of kids ages 8 – 12 had their own smartphone. In just four years, that number went up to 41%
- Teen smartphone ownership also increased dramatically over the same time period, according to the same study. 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
- And American teens, ages 13 to 18, used entertainment screen media (not at school or for homework) for an average of seven hours and 22 minutes each day in 2019
- 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
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. Kids 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.
Two-thirds of teens report using social media to meet new friends. More than 90% of teens use social media to connect with their existing friends daily. Therefore, 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?
By modeling the behavior we want to see in them:
- Not oversharing on social media. Asking our teens before we post about them. Keeping some things private and explaining why we are doing so
- Having 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, not glancing at our devices
- Setting 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
- Fostering self-esteem of the teen on and off social media by supporting what the teen is about and 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 college admissions officers or a person interviewing them for a job
2. One in three children have been cyberbullied
Chelsea Brown, Digital Mom Talk
Some current teen social media statistics parents should be aware of concerning cyberbullying are: 1 in 3 children are cyberbullied and 70% of children say they have cyberbullied someone online. It’s becoming a growing problem with parents and children. 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.
3. Only half of parents with kids 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 (and reinforces the need to use these filters and features as a basic step) because 9 out of 10 parents who do use them find they block the right amount of content. This came from an Ofcom (office of communications UK) research report in 2017.
At the same time, I caution that 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.
- 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||2012||2018|
What happens online, stays online
- If parents knew what actually happens on social media, 54% of teens said they’d be a lot more worried about it
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||Low social-emotional well-being||High social-emotional well-being|
|Sometimes feel left out or excluded when using social media||70%||29%|
|Have deleted social media posts because they got too few ”likes”||43%||13%|
|Feel bad about themselves if no one comments on or likes their posts||43%||11%|
|Have ever been cyberbullied||35%||5%|
A closer look at teens with low social-emotional well-being:
|% who say using social media makes them feel||More||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 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 contract 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 Green Zone to build a positive digital footprint
- Ensure that their profile picture is professional
- Use the same profile picture on every social network they sign up for
- 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
- Another option parents can consider is making 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 since 2012. 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.