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Survey: Teens have doubled their social media use

New research shows teenagers think social media distracts them, but makes them happier

Teenagers’ social media use has doubled in recent years, from 34 percent who reported using social media multiple times a day in 2012 to 70 percent reporting the same today, according to research from Common Sense.

Sixteen percent of surveyed teenagers say they use social media almost constantly, and 38 percent say they use it multiple times an hour.

In responses that will surprise no adults who have attempted to converse with teenagers, most teens say they prefer to text instead of talking face-to-face–35 percent of teens say texting is their preferred way to communicate with friends, followed by in-person communication (32 percent).

In 2012, that dynamic was markedly different–49 percent of teens said they preferred in-person communications, compared to 33 percent who preferred texting friends.

Given teens’ preference for their smartphones, it’s no shock that social media distracts them from a number of important things:

  • 57 percent of surveyed teens say social media distracts them from homework
  • 54 percent say it distracts them from paying attention to people they’re with
  • Close to one-third say they’ve been woken up by a call, text, or notification in the middle of the night

Teens aren’t completely naive, however–72 percent believe some tech companies manipulate them in order to keep them on their devices for longer periods of time.

Social media also exposes teens to upsetting content:

  • 13 percent of teens have been cyberbullied at some point
  • 23 percent have tried to help someone who has been cyberbullied
  • 64 percent say they come across racist, sexist, homophobic, or religious-based hate content either sometimes or often

Snapchat and Instagram are the most popular platforms among teens (63 percent and 61 percent, respectively). Facebook is on the bottom of the popularity ladder, with only 15 percent of teens using it as their main social media site. In 2012, however, 68 percent of teens said Facebook was their go-to platform.

Teenagers do use social media more today than in 2012, but they’re also more likely to say it has had a positive impact on them–25 percent say it makes them feel less lonely, and 16 percent say it makes them feel less depressed.

However, social media plays an outsized role for teens 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,” says Vicky Rideout, one of the study’s authors. “And, in another six years from now, these statistics may seem quaint.”

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