No one will be shocked to learn that teenagers spend a lot of time glued to their smartphones; take a look around anywhere teens are gathered and you’ll see teens paying full attention to the flickering blue screens in their hands. But a recent survey by Common Sense Media has found that teens’ social media and device usage has skyrocketed in the past few years.
It has also confirmed suspicions that device and social media usage are rapidly changing our kids in profound ways.
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology,” this week released a six-year update on a previous study called Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences. The striking results of the survey open a window into the lives of the world’s first true generation of digital citizens, who have never known a world without Google, and grew up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“We thought at the time of our first survey in 2012 that social media had pervaded teenagers’ lives. But, as many of us suspected and this study confirms, what we saw then was just the tip of the iceberg,” said Vicky Rideout, one of the study’s authors. “And, in another six years from now, these statistics may seem quaint.”
This spring, Common Sense surveyed more than 1,100 teens age 13-17, asking them a variety of questions about their use of social media and devices. Among the most striking findings were that teens are using their phones much more than they did six years ago. The number of teens who report using their phones several times a day has nearly doubled from 2012, with substantial numbers admitting “almost constant” use.
And for the first time, more teens said they prefer to send their friends a text message than talking to them face-to-face — even when sitting next to them. Thirty-five percent of teens said they’d rather text than talk to a friend. That’s a major shift from 2012, when about half of teens said they’d still rather talk in person than texting. The stereotypical image of teens sitting on the couch together, each with his or her attention glued to his smartphone and oblivious to each other, doesn’t seem so comical anymore.
The survey also revealed some important trends regarding the distraction caused by social media. More than half of respondents admitted social media has distracted them from doing their homework, or from interacting with people around them. That distraction may be affecting friendships; ironically, teens report being annoyed that their friends are on the phone all the time.
Here are a few more insights from Common Sense’s survey:
Teens think tech companies manipulate them. Nearly two-thirds of teens believe they’re being manipulated by tech companies so they’ll spend more time on their devices. Consumer advocates have long claimed that devices are hijacking our brains so we’ll become addicted to our phones; back in August, a group of 50 psychologists wrote to the American Psychological Association, warning about the phenomenon.
Facebook has jumped the shark (at least as far as teens are concerned). Snapchat has dethroned Facebook as the platform of choice for many teens, followed closely by Instagram. Use of Facebook as a teen’s main social media platform (which dominated the 2012 survey) was reported by only 15 percent of teens in the most recent poll; others reported Facebook was for “communicating with my grandparents”.
Despite these changes, most teens see them as positive rather than a negative. A quarter say it makes them feel less lonely, while others say it makes them feel less depressed. This conflicts with the views of many psychologists, who believe that social media could actually be creating more negative effects, such as feeling left out or cyberbullied.
“Like teenagers themselves, this research presents a complex picture that defies simplistic judgments. Indeed, many of the insights are likely to challenge our notions of whether social media is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for teens,” said James P. Steyer, Common Sense founder and CEO. “We hope that the data presented in this report offer new insights to help inform the work of all those who care about the healthy development of young people in our society.”
For more on the survey, visit https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/social-media-social-life-2018.