Teenagers drive culture more than any other age group in the United States. But this probably isn’t news to you because it’s pretty much always been the case.
I am always interested in how teenagers are using technology, especially their smartphones. I am a student minister at our church and I am always asking our students about the social media platforms they use, the YouTube channels they watch, and more.
Just last week, Pew Research Center published a new study on how teenagers are using technology. It is a gold mine. How teenagers use technology has massive effects on how adults will be using technology in the near future.
Surveying teens is rare. So this is a valuable study.
Here are some of the key findings:
1. 85% of teens say they use YouTube…compared to only 51% who use Facebook and 32% who use Twitter.
I’m the leader of the student ministry at our church, so the fact that YouTube is more popular than Facebook did not surprise me at all. However, the degree to which it is more popular than Facebook was a bit shocking to me.
Nicholas Thompson, the editor-in-chief of WIRED, noticed something more specific:
— Nicholas Thompson (@nxthompson) June 1, 2018
That is really interesting.
I mean, it was just a few weeks ago that Facebook launched their “youth portal,” which should communicate where they’re at in terms of demographic.
Beyond all of that, only 10% of teens who use Facebook say they use it the most often (Snapchat comes in at number one with 35%).
Facebook is losing young people. We know it has been for some time, despite its staunch denials. Fortunate for them is they own Instagram, the second-most-used platform behind YouTube.
When Facebook bought Instagram for one billion dollars in 2012, everyone thought Facebook was out of its mind. That price is looking more and more like a steal every day.
2. 31% of teens say social media has had a “mostly positive” effect on people their age.
This number didn’t surprise me—it is about where I would guess it to be.
Forty-five percent of teens said social media has “neither a positive nor negative” effect, and 24% said a “mostly negative” effect.
Among those who think it has had a mostly positive effect, they cite connecting with friends and family, finding news and information, and meeting others with similar interests as the top positive effects.
Among those who think it has had a mostly negative effect, they cite bullying and the spreading of rumors, a general harming of relationships, and an unrealistic view of others’ lives as the biggest issues with social media.
I find myself in the “neither positive nor negative” camp, but I am beginning to lean to the negative.
3. 45% of teens say they’re online almost constantly…up from 24% in 2014-2015.
“Almost constantly” is sort of vague, but the next most frequent option was “several times a day,” (44%) so we know it’s more than that.
What does it look like to be online “almost constantly?” Well for me, working heavily in the social media and online content space, if I’m not online, I’m probably not working (unless I’m in meetings).
For a teenager, being almost constantly online brings to mind a familiar image:
It means flipping from Snapchat to Instagram to the latest mobile game to YouTube back to Snapchat and through the cycle all over again.
For example, a teenager may be snapping back and forth with friends on Snapchat and, while waiting for friends to respond, they hop over to Instagram to catch up on their friends Stories or over to YouTube to see if their favorite creators have posted any new videos. Then, when their friends respond on Snapchat, they see the message, respond with their own, and go back to killing time on other apps until the process continues.
About 45% of teens cycle through this process constantly throughout the day. They can’t get off their phones because if they do they will fall behind, miss out in inside jokes, the latest gossip, and other meaningful social interactions that, if missed, could ostracize them.
We misunderstand teens constantly being on their phones as vain, self-interested, or as a sign of their unwillingness to have real social interaction with people in real life. All of these are definitely in play depending on the situation, but I think we are wrong to assume teens like that they have to be online “almost constantly.” I think, for many of them, it is a necessary evil.
For many teens, being online almost constantly is simply a means of social survival. If they don’t consume the content of their friends and create their own content, they run the risk of becoming social outcasts not just online, but in the hallways at school, too.
4. 97% of teen boys play video games.
This is compared to 83% of teen girls who play video games.
This doesn’t have a huge effect on social media or anything like that, but it was included in the study and I do think it’s pretty interesting.
Not long ago, video games was sort of part of “alternative culture.” Through the 1990s and even into the 2000s, video games were reserved for “nerds” or other such teenagers on social fringes.
Video games are a part of mainstream culture now, and I think you can argue that they have been for a few years.
The recent rise of the free-to-play Fortnite thanks to streamers like Ninja who collaborate with megastars like Drake has made it cool for anyone to play video games. It’s fascinating to watch.
5. 95% of teens have access to a smartphone at home…only 88% have access to a laptop or desktop.
I am not at all surprised that more teens have access to a smartphone than a laptop or desktop. What I am a little surprised by is the pervasiveness of the smartphone—I really didn’t think it would be at 95%.
What this means for those of you reading who create content online is this: you have to be sure you’re creating content that is easily consumable via mobile devices. Your websites need to adapt to mobile devices. Your video should be suitable for mobile devices.
How teenagers use technology in the present has often signaled how broader culture will use technology in the future.
We should be paying attention to how young people are using technology so that we can see what the future may be like and how we can handle it with wisdom.