Teens on Social Media: Many Benefits to Digital Life, But Downsides, Too

National survey finds teens’ widespread use of social networks is mostly positive, though many claim “addiction” to technology and express a desire to unplug

Common Sense Media
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO – Nine out of 10 teenagers in America have used social media, and the majority of them perceive it to be a more positive than negative influence in their lives. But in spite of their widespread use of today's technology, teens prefer talking in person over texting, tweeting, or connecting on Facebook, and many describe themselves as "addicted" to their digital devices.

Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives, a new report from Common Sense Media's Program for the Study of Children and Media, provides the latest insights on teens' use of media and technology and how they think it affects their relationships and feelings about themselves. This large-scale, nationally representative quantitative survey of more than 1,000 13- to 17-year-olds reveals that most teens think that social media has had a more positive than negative effect on their social and emotional well-being. Key findings include:

  • 90% of teens have used some form of social media; 75% have a social networking site, and more than half (51%) of all teens check their social networking site at least once a day.
  • 52% of all teens who use social media say that it has mainly helped their friendships, while only 4% say it has mainly hurt their friendships.
  • 29% of social network users believe that social networking makes them feel more outgoing (compared to 5% who say less); 20% say it makes them feel more confident (4% say less); 15% say it makes them feel better about themselves (4% say worse); and 10% say it makes them feel less depressed (vs. 5% who say more).
  • Despite all this, 43% of teens express a desire to disconnect sometimes, 41% say they are "addicted" to their mobile devices, and 36% say they sometimes wish they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook.

The urge to unplug is highest among teens who either don't use social networking or have had bad experiences online. As many as a third of these teens talk about "often" encountering racist or sexist (32%) or homophobic (31%) content in the digital dialogue.

Somewhat surprisingly, teens' favorite way to communicate with their friends is by talking in person (49%), with texting next (33%) and social media a distant third (7%). Teens who prefer talking face-to-face say it's because it's more fun (38%), and they can better understand what people mean (29%). The telephone, a mainstay of teenage life just a generation ago, is virtually dead: Only 4% of teens prefer to talk on the phone.

"Today's 13- to 17-year-olds are the first generation to go through their entire teen years with such an array of digital devices and platforms," says James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. "This report reads as a primer for parents to teens and tweens -- to help them understand how their kids are engaging with technology and to highlight any impact it might be having on their social and emotional well-being."

This is the second national survey conducted by Common Sense Media's Program for the Study of Children and Media. The research was written and directed by Vicky Rideout, senior adviser to Common Sense Media and president of VJR Consulting. The Program for the Study of Children and Media provides free, objective, and reliable data about young people's media use to those concerned about promoting healthy child development, including policymakers, educators, public health experts, child advocates, and parents.

For analysis and full results of Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives, as well as more information about Common Sense Media's Program for the Study of Children and Media, visit www.commonsense.org/research. To download an infographic with highlights from the study, visit www.commonsense.org/teen-social-media-infographic.

About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to: www.commonsense.org.

METHODOLOGY: This report is based on a nationally representative survey of 1,030 13- to 17-year-olds. The survey was conducted online for Common Sense Media by Knowledge Networks: A Gfk Company in February and March, 2012. Parental or legal guardian consent was collected for the purpose of conducting surveys with teenage panel members. For a full discussion of the methodology and a copy of the toplines, see the full report at www.commonsense.org/research.

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