Social Media Use and Teens

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“Do you wonder if our kids spend way too much time on their smartphones? It just seems like they are on it all the time and they never seem to talk to anyone. They just sit there, staring at the screen. I wonder if it’s our kids or if that is just the way things are right now,” said the mother to her husband.

Her husband shrugged and said, “I’m not sure but it seems like most of the teens that I see are as fixated on their devices as ours. It may just be normal behavior for today’s teens.”

It can be hard for parents to know exactly what is normal regarding teenage behavior, particularly in regards to social media and cell phone use. The constant changes in social media and smartphones mean that parents have little that they can relate to regarding their own experiences growing up and those that their adolescents are experiencing. Just when they think they know what Facebook is about, teens start using programs like Snapchat and Instagram.

The Pew Research Center released a report recently that can give parents some idea of whether their teens’ usage of social media is typical of other teenagers. Pretty much all teens go online daily (92%) with a quarter of them reporting being online “almost constantly”. The ability to be online constantly has been made possible by smartphones. Close to 75% of teens have access to smartphones and they use them to go online and use social network sites.

For parents, the days of thinking Facebook is the default social network for teens is long over. While a majority of teens still use Facebook, most (71%) also use other social networking sites. In particular, a couple of the increasingly popular social networking sites are Instagram and Snapchat. Both of these tend to be a bit more visually oriented than Facebook. Other social networking sites to be aware of include Twitter, Google+, Vine and Tumblr. Some like Twitter may sound familiar but fewer parents know about Vine or Tumblr.

In addition to going on social networking sites, teens like to text each other. They typically send and receive 30 text messages per day though some can far exceed that amount as many parents have experienced. Teens have diversified how they text. Where it used to be that texting had to occur through a cell phone carrier, now around a third of teens use apps on their smartphones. Some of the text messaging apps like Kik and WhatsApp have caught on as these can be used on iPods and other devices that have Wi-Fi.

There are some difference between boys and girls regarding how they spend their time online. In general, girls prefer more visually oriented social media sites like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest while boys are more likely to use Facebook and play video games.

The next time parents stare at their teenagers and wonder if all of that screentime on their smartphones and computer is normal, the answer is probably “yes”. However, that does not mean that parents simply give up trying to interact with their engaged teenagers. In person conversation still means a lot to teens, even if they don’t show it. Try to work in times during the day when conversations can occur. Dinner time would be a great time to converse though it may help to have a smartphone ban while the family is eating.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on June 21, 2015

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