Your teenager or students at your church may have a surprisingly nuanced view of social media’s impact on their lives.
A new Pew Research study on American teenagers and social media asked those 13 to 17 years old what platforms they use, how often they’re online, and what effect social media has on them and others their age.
Much has been made about the migration of teens away from Facebook and to YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. But less attention has been given to what they think social media, in general, is doing to them.
A plurality of teenagers (45 percent) say social media has had neither a positive or negative effect on them, while 31 percent say it has had a mostly positive effect, and 24 percent believe it has been mostly negative.
It might be surprising to find a quarter of Generation Z—the age group growing up on social media—expressing such a dire view of online life, but that’s exactly it: they’ve had to grow up on social media.
Those of us who came to social media as adults had the privilege of avoiding social media through our awkward middle school years or drama-filled days of high school. We could come home, relax, and forget about the pressures of fitting in and keeping up appearances. Today’s teens don’t have that luxury.
Yet, more still see social media as a net gain for their lives. Here’s what they said about the positives and negatives of social media.
By far, the most common reason a teenager says social media has been mostly positive for them is that it has allowed them to connect with friends and family. Four in 10 list that as the main reason social media has been a benefit for them.
As the parent of two teenage boys, I’ve seen just how often they stay in contact with their friends through social media. Whereas I would try to go over to friends house to hang out, they chat through Instagram or play video games online together.
Other positives, according to the teenagers, include: making it easier to find news and information (16 percent), meeting others with the same interests (15 percent), keeping them entertained (9 percent), self expression (7 percent), getting support from others (5 percent), and learning new things (4 percent).
Teens are more divided over the negatives behind social media. For those who say it has mostly been bad, several reasons came up most frequently.
Bullying and rumor spreading (27 percent) is the seen as the biggest cause of a negative experience. Teens also say social media can harm their relationships (17 percent), give an unrealistic view of others’ lives (15 percent), cause distractions (14 percent) and bring added peer pressure (12 percent).
If you are attempting to market yourself or your content to teenagers and young adults, you should be aware of not only what social media platforms they use but also how they view social media itself.
Take note of the positive experiences they have. Teenagers want social media to be a place of connection and personal expression. Find ways you can help them connect with each other and positive mentors. Look for opportunities to empower them to create their own content.
Remember the negative connotations it brings up for many teen social media users. They have found the digital world to be an extension of the bullying and ostracization they’ve felt in the offline world. Avoid feeding into those tendencies of social media. Work to leave a positive digital legacy.
Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends. He is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared at numerous sites, including The Washington Post, World Magazine, and Think Christian.