Ever since social media started gaining popularity in the early 2010s, parents across the country have been worrying about the impact of social media on their children, especially their teens. It can be hard to monitor your child when there are so many corners of the internet to be connected to. Mental health struggles have long resulted from social media usage in teens. The White House announced this year that it would be coming up with a plan to fight potential harms teens could face on social media platforms.
Pew Research surveyed 1,316 teens between the ages of 13 and 17 to determine the effect social media has on their mental health. 80% of teens say that the content they are exposed to on social media makes them feel “more connected” to what's going on in their peers' lives. 71% of teens say that social media makes them feel like they have a place to showcase their creativity. 67% say that social media platforms provide a support system for them when they are going through tough times.
Teens across major demographic groups share these positive sentiments.
32% said that the overall impact of social media for them has been positive, while 9% said it was negative. 56% don't think social media has had either a positive or negative effect on them. Teens who reported that the impact was positive cited maintaining friendships, building connections, or accessing information as the predominant reasons they feel that way.
38% of teens say they are overwhelmed by the amount of drama they see on social media platforms. 31% say the platforms make them feel like their friends are excluding them, 29% reported feeling pressure to post certain types of content for engagement, and 23% say that social media platforms make them feel worse about their lives.
Teenage girls report experiencing these pressures at higher rates than teenage boys. 45% of girls say they feel overwhelmed by social media drama compared with 32% of boys. 37% of girls say that social media makes them feel like they are being left out by their friends, compared to 24% of boys.
28% of girls report that social media makes them feel worse about their lives compared to 18% of boys.
Older teen girls are more likely to not post on social media out of fear that people online will use it against them in some way. 50% of 15-17-year-old girls say that they often or sometimes hesitate to post on social media because they think others might use the post to embarrass them in some way.
Negative vs. Positive Effect
Although most teens believe that social media has an overall positive effect on their life, they are noticeably more critical regarding the influence of social media on their peers. 9% of teens believe social media has had a negative effect on them, but that number rises to 32% when the question is framed about others their age.
32% of teens report that, overall, social media has positively affected them. However, when asked about teenagers as a whole, that number dropped to 24%.
Parents have had to be extra vigilant with their teens when it comes to social media and video-sharing apps, but only a minority of teens describe their parents as being highly concerned about their use of social media. 22% believe their parents are very worried, 27% say they are somewhat worried, and 41% say they worry very little, if at all. 9% aren't sure how their parents feel about it.
39% of teens believe that their experiences on social media are better than parents might think, while 27% believe it is worse. A third of respondents think their parents have it about right.
Teens with a more positive outlook on social media are more likely to report that their experiences on the platforms are not as bad as their parents think. They are also more likely to say that they have had positive experiences while using social media platforms.
54% of teens who have a more positive outlook on social media say that it makes them feel more connected to what's going on in their friends' lives. 40% say they feel social media is a safe space to show their creativity, and 35% believe that they have a support system through social media that would help them through a rough time in their lives. 28% of teens with a more positive outlook say that social media makes them feel more accepted in society.
12% of teens with a negative outlook on social media say that they are overwhelmed by the amount of drama they encounter, compared to 6% of the teens who believe social media's impact is mostly positive.
Teens are less likely to engage in online activism through social media. Only 10% report that they encouraged people to take action on political or social issues that are important to them in the last 12 months. 7% said the same regarding hashtags related to a political or social cause on social media during the same period.
There is a noticeable partisan difference among those who engage in online activism. 14% of teens who identify as Democrat or lean left say that they have used their social media platform to encourage others to take action on issues in the last 12 months. Only 6% of teens who identify as Republican or lean right have done the same.
20% of left-leaning teens say that they have posted photos or used hashtags to support a political or social cause, compared to 10% of right-leaning teens.
Policymakers have been working to improve privacy regulations on social media sites for some time. Facebook was recently embroiled in a scandal for following users off of the app to collect more data on them. TikTok was also under scrutiny for the amount of information it collected from its users.
Teens seem to be undecided on how they feel about the matter. 14% feel a lot of control over social media platforms collecting and storing their data. 60% of teens feel they have little to no control, and 26% are unsure how much control they have.
Only 20% of teens report feeling extremely concerned about the amount of personal information that social media platforms collect. 44% say that they have little to no concern about these companies having access to their personal data.
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