Teens may actually have a better handle on their social media use than we think.

Many adults worry about kids and technology, but a new report by Common Sense Media offers a glimmer of hope when it comes to teens and social media.

Common Sense media conducted a nationally representative survey of 1141 teens age 13 to 17. The report of the survey, called “Social Media, Social Life; Teens Reveal Their Experiences,” compares current survey results with a similar one conducted in 2012. And while some of the results are unremarkable (News flash: More teens are using social media now than six years ago), others may come as a surprise.

Smartphone and social media use has more than doubled since 2012, with 89% of teens surveyed owning a smartphone and 70% regularly using social media. And teen preferences when it comes to social media have changed too. Facebook, which was the most popular social media site in the 2012 survey, has largely been replaced by Snapchat and Instagram. 41% of respondents name Snapchat as their social media site of choice, 22% are avid Instagrammers, and a mere 15% are fans of Facebook.  


Notably, teens appear to be well aware of the pitfalls of social media use and the effect that it can have on their lives.

As opposed to living in digital denial, a majority of respondents agreed that social media distracts them from homework and from the people they are with.

“Teens are often depicted as being heedless of the consequences of spending so much time on their smartphones,” James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media pointed out in a letter. “In reality, our survey reveals that teens are fully aware of the power of devices to distract them from key priorities, such as homework, sleep, and time with friends and family.”

72% of teens surveyed also say they think they are being manipulated by companies to spend more time on their devices. This self-awareness can be used as a tool for parents and educators to encourage healthy technology habits with teens.

Photo via Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images.

Surprisingly, very few teens say that social media makes them feel bad about themselves. Most say it gives them more confidence.

Another unexpected result of the survey is that social media use, for most teens, is not the big bad self-esteem killer that concerned adults often make it out to be. Far more teens report that they good about themselves and feel less lonely, depressed, and anxious when they use social media.

However, there is one caveat. The study also showed that teens who already felt bad about themselves felt worse using social media. So for vulnerable teens who struggle with self-esteem already, social media may exacerbate their confidence issues.

For already confident and emotionally healthy teens, though, social media doesn’t appear to be having a negative effect on their self image.

A note of concern: More teens say they prefer to communicate with their friends through texting than face-to-face.

One technology worry that many adults have—that young people are losing the ability to connect in real life—may actually have some credence. Unlike the teens surveyed in 2012, more teens in the current survey—44%—said their preferred method of communicating with friends is through texting than through face-to-face conversations.

What this means is open to interpretation, of course. Maybe some teens see texting as a means of constant communication and prefer the convenience of being able to reach their friends anywhere at any time. Or perhaps they really are finding it harder to make real-life connections, with all of the natural human intricacies that face-to-face communication entails. Who knows.

It is heartening to know that teens are not oblivious to the downsides of technology.

The social media wave is not going anywhere anytime soon. Talking openly and honestly with kids and helping them navigate those waters, rather than trying to fight the current, may be the best way to keep them afloat.

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