Common Sense Research Reveals Everything You Need to Know About Teens' Use of Social Media in 2018

Common Sense Media
Monday, September 10, 2018

95% of Teens in the U.S. Own a Mobile Device; 70% Check Social Media Several Times a Day

Teens Prefer Texting to Talking as Their Favorite Way to Communicate

3 Out of 4 Teens Believe That Tech Companies Intentionally Manipulate Them

Social Media Affects Teens' Social and Emotional Well-Being, But Not Necessarily in Negative Ways

September 10, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Common Sense, the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology, today published a new research report, Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences. This survey is the organization's second report tracking social media use among American teenagers -- the original report of the same name was published in 2012 -- and offers a revealing look at teens' social media use over the last six years and how much it has come to dominate their lives.

"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, founder and CEO of Common Sense. "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."

The report covers what many parents of teenagers are eager to know, including:

  • Teens are on social media for much of the day. Seventy percent of teens use social media multiple times a day (up from 34 percent in 2012) with 16 percent saying they use it "almost constantly" and a total of 38 percent saying they use it multiple times an hour.
  • Teens prefer texting over talking face-to-face. When teens are asked to choose their favorite way to communicate with their friends, texting is the top choice, at 35 percent, followed by in person at 32 percent. In 2012, in person (49 percent) topped texting (33 percent).
  • Social media distracts them from some important stuff. Fifty-seven percent agree that social media often distracts them when they should be doing homework, and 54 percent of teens say that using social media "often distracts me when I should be paying attention to the people I'm with." Forty-four percent of teens say they get frustrated with their friends for being on their phones so much when they're hanging out together. And nearly one-third who own smartphones say they've been woken up by their phones during the night by a call, text, or notification.
  • Teens think tech companies manipulate them. Most teens -- 72 percent -- think some tech companies manipulate them to spend more time on their devices.
  • Exposure to hate speech is on the rise, while cyberbullying is less common. All told, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of teen social media users in 2018 say they "often" or "sometimes" come across racist, sexist, homophobic, or religious-based hate content in social media. Thirteen percent of teens report "ever" being cyberbullied, and more than one in five teens (23 percent) has tried to help someone who has been cyberbullied.
  • Facebook is for communicating "with my grandparents." Snapchat and Instagram are the most popular social media sites among teens, with more than six in 10 teens using each site (63 percent for Snapchat and 61 percent for Instagram). In 2012, 68 percent of teens listed Facebook as their main social networking site, whereas today, only 15 percent do.
  • Teens use social media way more today than they did in 2012, but they're more likely to say it has a positive rather than a negative effect on them. Twenty-five percent say it makes them feel less lonely (compared to 3 percent who say more); and 16 percent say it makes them feel less depressed (3 percent say more). However, social media plays an outsized role for kids with low social-emotional well-being: These kids are more likely to experience negative effects -- such as feeling left out or being cyberbullied -- but they're also much more likely to say social media has a positive effect on them overall.

"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."

For a summary of key findings and to download the full report, visit /research/social-media-social-life-2018.

Methodology: This report is based on a nationally representative survey of 1,141 13- to 17-year-olds in the United States. The survey was administered online by the research group GfK using their KnowledgePanel© from March 22, 2018, through April 10, 2018. Participants were recruited using address-based sampling methods. The margin of error for the full sample at a 95 percent confidence level is +/-3.4 percent.

About Common Sense

Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at


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