Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives

A Common Sense Research Study
June 26, 2012

Some teens wish they could disconnect more often—and that the people around them would, too.

Many teens recognize that they and their friends and family are increasingly tethered to their electronic gadgets, and a substantial number express a desire to disconnect sometimes. Among teens who own cell phones, 41% answered "yes" when asked whether they would describe themselves as "addicted" to their phones (no definition of addiction was offered, and this certainly doesn't imply a clinical condition). Forty-three percent of teens agree strongly or somewhat that they sometimes wish they could "unplug," and more than a third agree at least "somewhat" that they sometimes wish they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook. As one teen commented, "Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and relax with no way possible to communicate with anyone."

The teens who are most interested in "unplugging" or going back to a time before Facebook are the ones who either aren't using social networking themselves or have had bad experiences online. For example, 25% of teens who aren't currently using a social networking site strongly agree that they sometimes wish they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook, and a total of 54% agree at least somewhat with that statement. By comparison, among teens who are currently using a social networking site, just 8% strongly agree, and a total of 31% agree at least somewhat. In addition, a third of teens who most want to unplug or go back to a time when there was no Facebook say they "often" encounter racist (32%), sexist (32%), or homophobic (31%) content in social media (compared to 8-13% among other social media users). These negative experiences may be fueling the desire to unplug.

Some teens get frustrated by how attached their friends and parents are to their own devices. For example, 28% of those whose parents have a mobile device say they consider their parents "addicted" to their gadgets, and 21% of all teens say they wish their parents spent less time with their cell phones and other devices. Nearly half (45%) of teens say they sometimes get frustrated with their friends for texting, surfing the Internet, or checking their social networking sites while they're hanging out together.