Some astonishing statistics arose from a survey of more than 1,100 U.S. teens, released by Common Sense, a nonprofit advocacy group for kids and families.
It’s not exactly a revelation to those of you with teenagers that your kids are consumed by social media practically all the time.
Seventy percent of teens admit to tapping into social media multiple times a day, according to a nationally representative survey of more than 1,100 13- to 17-year-olds in the U.S., released Monday by Common Sense, a nonprofit advocacy group for kids and families. That’s more than double the percentage in 2012, when Common Sense last issued such a report on the impact of teen experiences with social media.
Over the ensuing years, the number of teens who own a mobile device climbed from 41 percent to 89 percent.
No wonder you’re scared to death about what overdosing on social media means for your kids’ social life. Or their health. And you’re frankly not sure when, how, or even if, to intervene.
“There is huge concern these days about the potential impact of social media and 24/7 tech use on today’s teens, including linking social media use to technology addiction, the decay of in-person social skills, and multiple harms to kids’ mental well-being,” says Common Sense founder and CEO James Steyer.
According to the survey, the teens themselves agree the increased use of social media over these past half-dozen years indeed affects their social and emotional well-being. But not necessarily in a negative way. In fact, many more teens claim a positive result rather than a bad one.
For example, while 3 percent of survey respondents said social media makes them feel lonelier, 25 percent indicated just the opposite.
The fact that teens think of social media favorably is a valid discussion point, says Vicky Rideout, founder of VJR Consulting in San Francisco and the author of the Common Sense report. But Rideout adds, “I do not think for a minute that the only metric we should use to measure what type of impact social media is having on teens is what they say they think it is having.”
Social media will indeed make some kids feel more popular, confident and creative. But some more vulnerable teens may feel worse.
As part of the survey, teens conceded social media can become one big distraction, whether while doing homework (57 percent) or paying attention to other people (54 percent).
And 44 percent admit to being frustrated by friends who are constantly on their own phones when hanging out.
A third of respondents reported having been woken up by phones at night, from a call, text or notification.
The survey suggests that cyberbullying may be less common than you might think, with 13 percent of teens indicating that they’ve “ever” been cyberbullied, and 23 percent having tried to help someone who has been a victim of such abuse. More concerning, though, is that nearly two-thirds of teens have either “often” or “sometimes” come across racist, sexist, homophobic or religious-based hate content on social media, with an increase, the survey says, of exposure to hate speech in each of these areas.
Among other findings: Most teens (72 percent) believe tech companies are manipulating them to spend more time on their devices. Teens indicated Facebook is for “communicating with my grandparents, while Instagram and Snapchat – more than 60 percent each – are where they’d rather spend their time.
It also won’t be surprising to many parents, that at 35 percent, texting is the top choice for how teens want to communicate with friends, compared to 32 percent who would rather talk in person. That’s a sizable drop from 2012, when teens preferred talking (49 percent) to texting (33 percent).
“That raises some alarm bells for me,” says Rideout. “It makes me wonder are we seeing a real shift in the way this generation wants to interact with other people.”
What parents can do
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for parents. Managing device use is hit or miss, says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media. You can encourage kids who are capable of managing their own cellphone use in a responsible way. If that’s not the case, you may want to enforce more stringent ground rules: Put devices away during homework or dinner time, say, or create device-free rooms in the home. And given how kids mirror your own behavior, make sure to follow the rules yourself, she says.
Knorr also recommends familiarizing yourself with your teen’s favorite social media outlets by reading reviews or even playing around with them yourself, and – if you’re not going to embarrass or make your kids crazy – friend them if they’ll permit it.
Another suggestion is to teach kids to be a force for good on the internet. Explain that it reflects poorly on them if they like or share messages of hate – even as a joke. And if your teen happens to know the person spewing hateful or inappropriate content, tell them to block or report the person and obviously unfriend him or her.
Out in cyberspace, it can be difficult to determine if your teen is vulnerable, and Knorr, in fact, says the kid may not even know it. As a parent, go with your gut. If you suspect something is going on, by all means dig deeper.
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