Teens know social media is manipulative, but are using it more anyway

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Whoa, the teens really are woke.

The organization Common Sense Media released a research report on Monday that aims to paint a picture of the role that social media plays in teens’ lives. Entitled ‘Social Media, Social Life,’ the survey covered topics like how much and what kinds of social media teens use, as well as how they feel about these apps, how social media makes them feel about themselves, how it affects their relationships, and more. 

Teens’ social media use has increased by 36 percentage points since 2012. Unsurprisingly, their favorite apps are Snapchat and Instagram (Facebook is for communicating “with my grandparents” — not even parents, now… ouch). 

<img class="no-microcontent" data-credit-name='common sense media’ data-credit-provider=”custom type” data-caption=”Device use has skyrocketed.” title=”Device use has skyrocketed.” src=”https://i.amz.mshcdn.com/9nWw5XUOvUhv7m39MBA5sP1PVc0=/fit-in/1200×9600/https%3A%2F%2Fblueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fuploads%2Fcard%2Fimage%2F843094%2F2c893b1d-7a40-4a9c-9aa6-8b7963e3acfe.png&#8221; alt=”Device use has skyrocketed.”>

Device use has skyrocketed.

Image: common sense media

Sorry, Facebook.

Sorry, Facebook.


Beyond broad-scale usage, the findings also show that how teenagers conceive of social media, and the role the apps play in their lives, is complicated and sometimes contradictory.

“Kids are much more aware today than they were a few years ago of both the pros and the downsides of social media,” Jim Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media said on a call with press. “Basically all of them are engaged whether we like it or not. But they are more aware of some of the hazards on some of their emotional and personal wellbeing.”

Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping parents navigate raising a family amidst the technological concerns of the 21st century. The organization commissioned the survey from a research group, which surveyed a “nationally representative” sample of 1,141 13- to 17-year-olds in the United States. Additionally, Common Sense conducted a similar survey in 2012, and was therefore able to compare how teens’ attitudes toward and behavior have changed over the tumultuous recent years for social media.

The affects of social media and smartphones on teens have been the focus of many studies and articles in recent years. Much of the discourse has centered around social media addiction, stilted social skills, and, notably, increased feelings of isolation and depression. However, Common Sense’s report does not paint as bleak a picture.

The Common Sense survey showed that social media is playing an increasing, but majority neutral, role in kids’ lives. A majority of teens self-reported that it did not affect their moods, behavior, or relationships positively or negatively — and a greater percentage of teens in the 2018 study said it has positive affect on them than in the 2012 study. 

“Kids are used to social media now,” Steyer said. “That’s why many of them accept it as part of their life, and don’t really feel one way or the other.”

Many more teens say social media affects them positively than negatively. But most say it has no effect.

Many more teens say social media affects them positively than negatively. But most say it has no effect.


Have teens really put the social back in social media?

Have teens really put the social back in social media?


Other findings show that more mature attitudes don’t necessarily correlate to more intentional behavior. Teens are increasingly aware of the way social media can manipulate them: 72 percent think social media companies intentionally work to keep eyeballs on their platform. Yet 70 percent of teens report that they use social media multiple times a day; 16 percent are on it “almost constantly.” Additionally, teens most prefer communicating via text over all forms of communication — including face to face.

“Kids are finding it difficult to put their devices down, and also being irritated with their friends who can’t put their devices down,” Sierra Filucci, Common Sense’s Executive Editor said. “They’re struggling with it in the same way that we are all struggling with it.”

<img class="no-microcontent" data-credit-name="COMMON SENSE MEDIA
” data-credit-provider=”custom type” data-caption=”Teens are using social media even when they don’t want to be.” title=”Teens are using social media even when they don’t want to be.” src=”https://i.amz.mshcdn.com/N78MKVvYQ6SAeD9c-kf156gpK14=/fit-in/1200×9600/https%3A%2F%2Fblueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fuploads%2Fcard%2Fimage%2F843113%2Fbbe7cf6c-4f73-48af-8be7-64798a57209f.png&#8221; alt=”Teens are using social media even when they don’t want to be.”>

Teens are using social media even when they don’t want to be.


Emoji or bust.

Emoji or bust.


One of the report’s authors, Vicky Rideout, attributes what she called the “tremendous” increase of social media use (70 percent up from 34 percent in 2012) to the increasing amount of teens who have a smart phone. She was also encouraged by the increasingly positive impact teens report social media having on their lives, even amongst the most “vulnerable” groups.

“Teens who are already lower in social and emotional wellbeing are the teens who are most likely to have negative responses to social media,” Rideout said. “But even among these more vulnerable teens, they’re still more likely to say that social media is a more positive than negative experience.”

As Steyer pointed out, this report surveyed a generation of true digital natives; the oldest participants were born in the year 2000. The fact that social media and smartphones have been baked into their lives as a given, and not a disruption, might allow for a more nuanced relationship with the platforms. They both and enjoy and rely on them, but understand the pitfalls, and the fact that these companies exist to make money. 

With that attitude, the kids might just be all right.

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