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Teen Girls Share How They Really Feel About Social Media

New research on teen girls' experiences on TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube highlights how platforms can better protect their mental health.

Teen girl in leopard print sweater taking a selfie on a phone.

The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the American Academy of Pediatrics have declared a mental health crisis among young people in this country. Research from the CDC released in February 2023 highlighted that girls specifically are feeling this crisis at higher levels than any other group. Our years of research into the relationship between technology and mental health show that social media should be a major factor in the discussion around the youth mental health crisis.

Common Sense Media's newest research explores adolescent girls' experiences on social media—what they are doing, how it makes them feel, and what is influencing their experience. To get a better understanding of how specific platforms and features found across platforms affect the lives of teen girls, we asked them directly. This research provides a comprehensive, up-to-date road map for what teen girls are doing online. Here are some key findings:

Positive experiences exist alongside negative and dangerous content.
Access to social media can connect girls to community, direct them to resources, and even help them affirm their identities. Still, these positive experiences happen alongside racism, hate speech, and dangerous content.

Although social media platforms may represent an important means of identity development and validation for girls of color, exposure to racism remains an unfortunate reality for them across social media platforms. Roughly two-thirds of girls of color report having ever come across racist content on these platforms, with one in five saying they come across it daily or more.

Girls' suggestions for mitigating this harmful content included censoring explicit content, making it easier to filter or block unwanted followers or content, adding parental controls, improving privacy settings, and enforcing bans of problematic users.

Features that are universal across platforms influence girls' experiences using social media.
We found that no single platform stood out as being worse than another when it comes to teen girls' mental health. Instead, specific features stood out in both positive and negative ways. The features that make these platforms most engaging and successful are also the ones that can have negative impacts on teen girls. Location sharing (45%) and public accounts (33%) were the features that girls said had the most negative impact. These universal features and the impact they have on teen girls are some of the important changes that need to be made on social media platforms.

Social media is having an outsize impact on teens with mental health issues.
Teens who are already at risk or experiencing mental health challenges are also more likely to experience the negative impacts of social media. Those same teens are also more likely to find the benefits of social media and turn there for support, so it's critically important to provide them with positive experiences on these platforms.

Understanding girls' perceptions of their social media experiences is essential to shaping platforms in ways that maximize their benefits for girls' well-being, while minimizing their risks, particularly for girls who are the most vulnerable. This research is an important step in furthering the conversation around young people's mental health and technology.


Putting what's best for kids at the center of how these platforms are designed may allow them to continue using social media for all its benefits and social development needs—without so many downsides. Social media plays a huge role in how teens experience the world and build and support their relationships. They aren't likely to stop using it, but we have a chance to make it work better for them. It's time to bring young people's voices into the center of discussions on the connections between social media and mental health for kids and teens.

We're now in a position to act on what girls are telling us and target those features through better regulation. The features they identified in this research, and the girls' own ideas for improvements, provide a road map for the industry to use for making simple but important changes to their platforms. These changes would lessen the harmful impacts of social media on teens' mental health and maximize its benefits—especially for those teens who are already dealing with depression or other social vulnerabilities.

This is why we support the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), just introduced into Congress this week. While KOSA isn't perfect, it is a starting point for putting the responsibility on companies to design their platforms in a safer way, take action when their platforms pose harm to minors, and give minors and parents the more meaningful controls they're asking for.

This research is a great first step, and at Common Sense we are committed to bringing teen voices forward as we work with industry leaders, policymakers, and the federal government to address the youth mental health crisis. Our new campaign, Healthy Young Minds, is designed to raise awareness and drive momentum toward solutions for ending the youth mental health crisis. The campaign includes more research, tools for educators, and a series of town halls across the country. Together we can all help make social media a place where mental health is cultivated and supported.

Supreet Mann

Supreet Mann is director of research at Common Sense. She holds a PhD in communication and a master's degree in child development from the University of California, Davis. Her research uses a developmental lens to consider the role of social influences on children's socio-emotional outcomes, including prosocial behavior, risk-taking, and learning. In addition to presenting her work at national and international conferences, Supreet has published her work in a variety of academic journals, including Journal of Children and Media, Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, and Journal of Child and Family Studies.