Nearly one-quarter of teens report being online “almost constantly”

Recent study highlights teens’ online experiences and use of several social media platforms.

People across age groups spend a lot of time interacting with others online. Findings from a recent study by the Pew Research Center indicated that 24 percent of teens ages 13-17 reported being online “almost constantly.” Much of this ongoing access has been made possible by the availability of smartphones. Although teens use a variety of devices for their online experiences (including smartphones, desk or laptop computers, tablets and game consoles), 94 percent indicated they use mobile devices to go online daily or more often.

The Pew report takes a close look at teens’ use of technology and differences in their rates of use related to sex, race/ethnicity, age (younger and older teens), household income, parent educational attainment and living location (urban, suburban, rural). The report also examined young people’s use of the seven social media platforms listed below. Eighty-nine percent of teens reported using at least one of these sites, and 71 percent reported using two or more sites. Following are some of the highlights from their responses, along with additional information about these various platforms that may be of interest to parents and other adults who want to learn more about teens’ online experiences:

  • Teens indicated that Facebook was their most commonly used social media platform. Seventy-seven percent of older teens (ages 14-17) reported using Facebook. This compares with PEW research that shows that 70 percent of adults are currently using Facebook. Teens’ rates of using Facebook were relatively consistent across gender, race and ethnic groups. Teens reported having an average of 145 Facebook “friends,” with girls and older teens reporting higher numbers of friend networks.
  • Fifty-two percent of teens reported using Instagram, a social media platform launched in 2010 that enables users to share photos and videos. Instagram accounts can be linked with other social media accounts; for example, what’s shared on a person’s Instagram account can be automatically linked to his or her Facebook or Twitter accounts. Older girls were the heaviest users of Instagram (61 percent), and the average teen reported having 150 followers (with girls reporting an average of 200 followers). Just as can be done on Facebook, a person’s Instagram followers can “like” what someone has posted, leave comments and forward/share the posts with others. Many people use Instagram to post older images with hashtag labels like “#TBT” (throwback Thursday), as a way of connecting and celebrating something from the past. And – as millions of Instagram users have illustrated – the site is very popular for sharing “selfie” photos.
  • Snapchat was launched in 2011 as an application where users can share images and videos that are automatically deleted within a set period of time (usually a few seconds). Forty-one percent of teens reported using Snapchat, with higher rates associated with girls and older teens. One of the popular features of Snapchat allows friends and family who are concurrently using the app to engage in real time video chat. Although Snapchat has been marketed as a way for users to share images that automatically disappear after sharing, the Pew researchers and others have pointed out that there are workarounds that have been used to capture images. In a recent blog about temporary messaging apps, Common Sense Media specialist Kelly Schryver stressed that whenever data is sent online, it never truly disappears and that there are programs that have been developed to retain or recover Snapchat images.
  • One-third of teens reported using Twitter, a social networking site that lets users send and read 140-character messages known as tweets. Older girls are most likely to use Twitter (49 percent), and the average number of followers for teen Twitter users was 95 – and these followers have the options of “liking” the tweets, commenting or retweeting them to others. Although the Pew study didn’t ask kids about the number of people they follow on Twitter, many people use Twitter to follow the tweets of both people they know and those they find interesting such as celebrities and other public figures. Twitter can be used to learn about trending topics that can range from those that are light-hearted or silly, to those that focus on critical local, national and international social issues.
  • Google offers a suite of tools including its social network service Google+ (pronounced Google Plus). One-third of teens reported using Google+, which many young people have access to since schools are increasingly adopting Gmail and other Google tools to use with students. One of the features of Google+ is Hangouts, which includes photo sharing and group video calling features.
  • About one-quarter of teens reported using Vine, an app that allows users to view, record and share six-second videos. A wide range of subject matter and experiences are shared through Vine videos, and the brevity of the form can provide a fun and creative challenge for those who use it. As with most of the social media platforms that teens were asked about, teens’ experiences with Vine will likely depend on what they share, who they follow and who follows them.
  • The final platform that teens were asked about was Tumblr, and 14 percent reported using this blogging site. Tumblr allows users to share visual content that they’ve created themselves or content that they’ve found elsewhere online. Like any of the media sharing platforms described above, Tumblr can be used to share a wide range of subject matter and expression.

Keeping up with these and more recently developed social network platforms and apps can seem exhausting for adults who care about the kinds of experiences their children are having online – especially when we hear about experiences with cyberbullying, sexting and digital abuse and harassment. Resources such as Common Sense Media can provide helpful guidance for parents and others as they explore what to know about social media sites and ways to help young people develop skills for safe, healthy, fun and educational online experiences. It’s also important for adults to balance their concerns, fears and assumptions about young people’s online experiences with teens’ positive reports of these experiences. For example, in the Common Sense Media study titled Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives, teens reported that their online experiences were much more likely to be positive than negative and had strong benefits for their social and emotional wellbeing. They reported that using social media helped deepen and strengthen relationships with friends and family, as well as build important new relationships.

In addition to the sources mentioned above, Michigan State University Extension also provides a variety of resources related to the positive development of children and adolescents. Among these is an initiative called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, which is designed to help adults and young people work in partnership to create positive relationships and focuses on issues including bullying, online safety and social and emotional health.

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