February 2016: Teens' Social Media Use: How They Connect & What It Means for Health
In this digital age, technology and the Internet are part of everyday life. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are especially prominent in the lives of adolescents, and they’re not just for talking with friends: adolescents use social media to express themselves and find information. Below, we look at their habits, the risks and benefits of social media use, and resources to keep youth safe online.
How Teens Are Connected
The Pew Research Center regularly conducts surveys on technology use in the United States, and collects data on adolescents’ social media use.
- Teens connect via mobile. Widespread and improved mobile technology means teens can access social media more easily. According to a Pew survey conducted during 2014 and 2015, 94 percent of teens who go online using a mobile device do so daily.
- Teens use multiple social platforms. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most popular, and 71 percent of teens say they use more than one social media site.
- Teens’ social media use differs by gender. Boys report going on Facebook most often; while girls are more likely than boys to use visually-oriented platforms such as Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram.
- Teens share a lot of their personal information. A survey of over 600 teens from 2012 found that nearly all shared their real name and photos of themselves, and most shared their school name, birthdate, and the city or town where they lived.
- Teens use social media for romance too. Another 2015 Pew report on the role of technology in teen romantic relationships notes that half of teens say they’ve used Facebook or other social networking sites to express romantic interest in someone, and many use these sites to display their romantic relationships.
Social Media: Health Resource or Health Risk?
As with most technology, there are potential benefits and risks to teens’ social media use. These platforms can help teens socialize and communicate with peers; find learning opportunities; and become engaged in causes important to them. Social media also provide a wealth of information and resources that teens can use to maintain their own health and relationships.
On the other hand, teens on social media are at risk of cyberbullying and other aggression online; inappropriate content or exposure to predators; and having their private information available publicly. There is also some evidence that frequent social media use may be linked to depression and other mental health problems.
Ultimately, social media becomes a tool or risk for teen’s health based on how they use it, which is in turn shaped by the guidance they get from caring adults. To support teens’ healthy social media use, parents and youth-serving professionals can use these resources:
- Help teens protect their information online with Onguardonline.gov, a federal resource sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security.
- Talk to teens about being responsible digital citizens and how to prevent and handle issues such as sexting and cyberbullying with additional resources from the Department of Homeland Security’s “Stop. Think. Connect.” campaign, including a rap video by youth on online safety.
- Set healthy boundaries for social media use (and technology in general) with this family media contract example from the American Academy of Pediatrics site for parents, HealthyChildren.org.
- Check out social media resources from the Department of Health and Human Services and many of its offices (including OAH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health), for reliable information on adolescent health.
- Direct teens toward sites that are designed to help them directly, including the National Runaway Safeline, NIDA for Teens, Smokefree Teen, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The OAH website also has a page for teens to find action steps and resources they can use to care for their health as well as a list of service locators.
The broad use of social media by adolescents means it is an influential piece of their lives. Talk with adolescents to help them use social media to support their health.
Content last reviewed on February 25, 2019