What were teens doing online last year?

cracking up

At the beginning of the month, the Pew Research Center published their most recent report on teens and technology entitled “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015”. The Pew Research Center always provides great insight into the use of technology by both adults and teenagers. This report, taken from data obtained in the fall of 2014, continues to provide helpful insight. Though others have published on this topic earlier in the month, I wanted to take the time to write about the report in the context of my work in prevention and parental education.

The results of the survey are interesting not just because they provide some idea of what teens are doing in the mobile world, but the study also highlights the differences in usage between genders, race and socioeconomic classes.

Most American teens have a mobile phone and almost 75% of all American teens have a smartphone. These numbers are higher for African American teenagers. 68% of all teens age 13-14 have access to or have their own smartphone. These teens are using the internet all the time, with 24% of teens saying that they are on the internet “almost constantly” and 56% saying they are on the internet several times a day. Minority teens are going online more frequently than white teens and teens from wealthy families are online less than those from lower income families.

We all know that teens text and they text a lot. However, what many parents don’t realize is that their teens are not necessarily just texting via their phone, they are also texting via messaging apps. The study found that 91% of teens text and 33% of teens surveyed text via apps such as Kik or What’s App. Minority teens and teens from lower income families are more likely to use messaging apps and girls are more likely to use messaging apps than boys. The important message for parents here is that you need to know what messaging apps are out there and what apps your kids are using.

Anonymous apps such as After School and Yik Yak have been in the news frequently, mostly dealing with problems of cyberbullying. The study found that 11% of teens reported using these apps. Hispanic teens were two times more likely to use these apps than white teens. These numbers are actually good news. Though the negative features of these apps often make sensational headlines, the number of teens using these apps is relatively small.

Many parents may not be aware that teens use video chat apps with some frequency. This could be the more widely known ones such as Skype and Facetime or lesser known avenues such as Oovoo or Omegle. Parents need to gain some knowledge in this area since almost half of teens are talking (47%) in this manner. Girls video chat more than boys.

We all know that teens are avid social media users. This again makes headlines. Particularly, there have been a lot of headlines about how teens are leaving Facebook for other social media outlets. This is not necessarily true. Apparently, teens are using multiple social media apps at the same time. The survey showed that 89% of teens use at least one social media outlet and nearly ¾ use two or more sites. Facebook is still the most popular social media site that is used with 71% of teens surveyed using the site.

What other social media sites are teens using? Over half of teens use the photo sharing site Instagram. 41% of teens are also using Snapchat. Girls and older teenagers are more likely to use Snapchat than boys or younger teens. Teens are also using Twitter with 33% of all teens on this social media site. Lesser used social media sites are Tumblr (14%) and Vine (24%).

I really appreciate the data we get from these types of surveys. As an adult and a digital immigrant, I am often not the first to know about what apps and technology teens are using. The data from Pew is generated directly from teens themselves and gives us a better picture of what they are doing in the digital world. It also gives parents an idea of what they need to be aware of regarding their children’s use of technology.
Though surveys are great, I will end this post with the writings of an actual teen. The post seen at https://medium.com/backchannel/a-teenagers-view-on-social-media-1df945c09ac6 does not have an author listed so I can only credit the 19 year old college student who wrote it anonymously. I love this post as it is written by an actual teen, not an adult talking about what teens do. You can read his post for full details but here is his breakdown of a party, which I love:

“ You post yourself getting ready for the party, going to the party, having fun at the party, leaving at the end of the party, and waking up the morning after the party on Snapchat.

On Facebook, you post the cute, posed picture you took with your friends at the party with a few candids (definitely no alcohol in these photos).

On Instagram, you pick the cutest one of the bunch to post to your network.”

In summary, as a parent, you have to be aware of everything that is out in the digital realm. It is likely we will always be a bit behind the eight ball unless we are hard core techies ourselves. Studies like this from Pew help us get a leg up on understanding what most teens are doing in this period of time, which is likely a better barometer than the sensationalized media.

For more information on Dr. Weeks Prevention Project: The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teens about cybersex and pornography, please click here.

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