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What Parents Should Know About Social Media Use in Teens [New Survey Results]

Are kids spending too much time on social media sites? Parents likely know their teens spend a lot of time on social media, but new research indicates it may be even more than first realized. According to the “Teens, Social Media and Technology 2018” report conducted by the Pew Research Center, 45 percent of U.S. teens say that they are online “almost constantly”—a number that has nearly doubled since the last Pew study in 2014–2015.

In addition to online frequency, the study also charts which social media sites are getting the most traffic. Perhaps not surprisingly, once-popular sites that are now dominated by older users are quickly losing ground with today’s teens.

A Shift from Facebook

Among teenagers, there’s a decided shift away from Facebook—once the internet’s most popular teen social club—to newer social media sites. According to the 2014–2015 Pew study, 71 percent of teens used Facebook. In the 2018 study, that number has dropped to 51 percent, while large numbers are also using Instagram (72 percent), Snapchat (69 percent), and YouTube (85 percent).

However, when it comes to preference, the numbers drop even more. In the latest study, only 10 percent of teens use Facebook the most often. Instead, their preferences lie with Snapchat (35 percent), YouTube (32 percent), and Instagram (15 percent).

The Overwhelming Popularity of Smartphones

In one of the most significant statistics from the Pew study, 95 percent of U.S. teens have access to a smartphone, compared to only 88 percent who have computer access. Interestingly, while computer access varies according to income level, the percentage of teens with smartphone access remain in the mid-to-high 90 percentile range, regardless of income.

Social Media Impact: A Teen’s Point of View

Do teens view social media as a guiding force in their lives? According to the Pew study, 45 percent feel that it has neither a positive nor negative effect, while 31 percent say that it has a mostly-positive effect. Significantly, 24 percent claim that social media has had a negative effect on their lives.

When asked for clarification, teens with a positive view of social media cited its ability to help them keep in touch with family and friends. Likewise, those who said it had a negative impact cited the detrimental effects of bullying and rumor-mongering. Interestingly, 17 percent of these teens say they believe that social media sites not only harm relationships, but also result in less-meaningful interactions among people.

The Impact on Parents

Lawmakers have recently been pondering the appropriateness of content (and how to monitor it for teen usage) on popular sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Likewise, studies show that a majority of school leaders are concerned about student social media use outside of school—but only 14 percent feel capable of doing anything positive about it. Toward this end, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already promised to address cyber-bullying and fake news issues associated with the site. That being said, kindergarten through high schools are reluctant to encourage a boycott of Facebook, because of the many valuable resources and communication access with family and friends it provides.

What can parents take away from the Pew study? For one thing, teens spend significantly more time on social media sites than they did a few years ago. Another important takeaway is that a large number of teens feel social media sites have had a primarily negative impact on their lives.

For parents, experts stress the importance of monitoring the quantity and quality of their children’s internet usage as well as the importance of implementing good security and behavioral practices. These include updating privacy settings, using filtering software, and creating ground rules for usage. In addition, parents who have particular need for concern would do well to keep computers in a central location, where they can keep an eye on online activity.

In the end, social media sites provide a valuable resource; but they also impose a responsibility on parents to make sure that they’re not being misused, overused, or abused.

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