New Research: How Teens Feel About Social Media in 2022
Revealing data points on drama, activism, and more from a recent Pew study.
A couple of weeks ago, Pew Research Center published some new data on how teens perceive social media and its effects on their lives.
Social media is much more than a “teen” issue, of course. The parents of today’s teenagers are avid social media users and were likely some of the first Facebook users when it launched on college campuses almost 20 years ago.
But, no one can deny that teenagers are routinely the power users of social media. Teenagers lead the way on social media trends and play a significant role in determining which platforms survive or fizzle out.
So, what do teens think about their relationship with social media? Let’s look at a few of the most notable revelations:
Teen Girls Feel More Social Pressure From Social Media
Check out this chart from Pew:
As author and scholar Jonathan Haidt has been shouting from the rooftops for years, social media dramatically affects teen girls in ways and degrees it simply does not affect teen boys.
Here’s what he wrote for the Atlantic just a year ago:
Social media gets blamed for many of America’s ills, including the polarization of our politics and the erosion of truth itself. But proving that harms have occurred to all of society is hard. Far easier to show is the damage to a specific class of people: adolescent girls, whose rates of depression, anxiety, and self-injury surged in the early 2010s, as social-media platforms proliferated and expanded. Much more than for boys, adolescence typically heightens girls’ self-consciousness about their changing body and amplifies insecurities about where they fit in their social network. Social media—particularly Instagram, which displaces other forms of interaction among teens, puts the size of their friend group on public display, and subjects their physical appearance to the hard metrics of likes and comment counts—takes the worst parts of middle school and glossy women’s magazines and intensifies them.
Social media has more negative effects on teen girls than teen boys.
Few Teens Report Participating in “Activism” on Social Media
Here’s another insightful chart from Pew:
There is a sense among older people, I think, that teenagers use social media to promote all kinds of “woke” activism initiatives. Of course there is some measure of that, as there has always been.
But the Pew data is pretty revealing—not many teenagers are very interested in using social media for activism…at least right now. I think it’s fair to say that “peak activist” age on social media lands more in the college age-range of something like 18-22-years-old than the 13-17-year-olds polled for this study.
Now, to be clear, the most active “teen activists” on social media do lean more liberal in their political persuasions, which is to be expected. But only 15% of U.S. teens report engaging in any sort of activism at all, which is probably lower than some would expect.
Teens Know They Don’t Control Their Data, Mostly Don’t Care
A third and final chart from Pew for us to review:
According to this data, most teens recognize that they don’t have complete control of their data—but unfortunately 14% of them think they have a lot of control! It’s also not super surprising that 26% of teenagers aren’t really sure about how data control works on social media. I definitely wasn’t thinking about that stuff when I was first logging into Facebook and Twitter as a teenager.
Unfortunately, the sad part of this is that almost half of teenagers are either not concerned or “a little” concerned about how their data is being handled by social media companies. I really wish this was higher. It is important that we educate children, which is what these teenagers are, about how their data is being harvested and sold for a profit…or used in even more nefarious ways. Whether or not it changes their relationship with social media is up to them, but we should do what we can to educate them.
The whole report is fascinating. You can read the article Pew posted about this data here.
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Fascinating stuff, though certainly makes me feel fearful of when my little girl gets to Instagram age (thankfully a few years off yet)
That one data point about how teens view social media’s impact on *other* teenagers is something else. The discrepancy is incredible.