New Common Sense Media Study Paints a Clear Picture of Teens’ Digital Lives

July 18, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense News, Parents and Families, Research & Studies, Students

Last month, Common Sense Media released “Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View their Digital Lives” (pdf). The study tracks how teens view the role of social media, and their relationship to it. According to survey results, 90 percent of all American teens have used social media, 75 percent have their own social networking site, and nearly one in three teens visit these profiles multiple times a day.

Researchers surveyed a diverse, probability-based sample of 1,030 teens ages 13–17 from across the U.S. to create a snapshot of the relationship today’s teens have with social media. More specifically, they strove to address five questions:

  • How often are teens texting and using Facebook and Twitter?
  • What are teens’ preferred ways to communicate with friends and family?
  • How do teens think these new communication tools affect their relationships?
  • How does social networking make teens feel about themselves and their peer relationships?
  • How do heavier social media users compare with other teens?

Overall, survey results revealed that the majority of teens love using social media sites and think it’s a positive influence in their lives. More than one-half said they text every day, and 51 percent said they visit social networking sites daily. Facebook is still the dominant social media choice, however. Among the 75 percent who have their own social media profiles, 68 percent said Facebook is their main site while only 6 percent chose Twitter.

Further, most teens believe social media is a boon to their self-esteem. Among a list of attributes ranging from confidence to feeling outgoing to depression and shyness, teens believed that social media makes them feel better about themselves.

And unlike certain stereotypes of teens and social media, most believe that face to face still matters. One-half of teens say that talking in person is still better than texting, and 38 percent of those who preferred in-person communication said face-to-face conversations are “more fun” than chatting online. Results also showed that if they can’t talk in-person, texting is the preferred way to communicate. Only 7 percent chose social networks as their “go-to” method of connecting with others, and many said that using social media to communicate can interfere with face-to-face communication.

More specifically, 44 percent said social media distracts them from the people they are with, and almost one-half of teens said it’s frustrating when friends pay more attention to gadgets when they are spending time together. One surveyed teen from the study pointedly said, “It’s boring to talk to someone that has to check Facebook every five minutes.”

Survey findings also showed that about one-half said they social networking actively helps their peer relationships, while only 4 percent said it  hurts their relationships with friends.  A strong majority (69 percent) of those who maintain a social media site believe that social media helps them get to know others in their school better, and 57 percent said social media helps them connect with people with similar interests. But there may be a sense of “social media fatigue” on the horizon. One of the most interesting portions of the study covered teens’ desires to disconnect from the digital world around them. A little more than one-third (36 percent) said they sometimes wish they could go back to a time before Facebook. However, the teens who are most interested in “unplugging” are those who either aren’t using social networking or have had bad experiences online. These “bad experiences” often include encounters with racist, sexist, and homophobic content.

Approximately one in four teens is a “heavy” user of social media, meaning they use at least two different types of social media every day. Twenty percent considered themselves “addicted” to these sites, and 41 percent felt the same way about their phones. Interestingly, 28 percent of teens whose parents have a mobile device said they considered their parents to be “addicted” to their gadgets as well; and 21 percent said they wished their parents spent less time with their phones and other digital devices.

The study provides a glimpse into the way teens view social media, and how they think it affects their relationship with others. It paints a detailed picture of their perspectives on communication, both on- and offline, and allows teachers and parents to have a truer understanding about what teens value when it comes to connection. Key findings of the study have been broken down by section on our website, and we’ve also designed a helpful infographic summarizing the results.