The blog

What’s Up With Teens and Screens?

Hot off the presses, the Pew Research Center recently surveyed 1,453 teens aged 13-17 about their use of screens. Here’s what they found:

Top 5 online platforms and percentage of teens who say they have ever used them:

  1. YouTube 93%
  2. TikTok 63%
  3. Snapchat 60%
  4. Instagram 59%
  5. Facebook 33%

These are averages for 13-16 year old’s; older teens are closer to the 70% mark for TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. The take-away is that the vast majority of teens in the US are accessing these apps.

Almost 1 in 5 teenagers report that they are on YouTube or TikTok “almost constantly”, and analyzing just TikTok and Snapchat, whose numbers are similar, around half of teens say they access one of these apps daily. 95% of US teens have smartphones, so these apps are available to them whenever they have access to their phones.

Combining this data with clinical observations among therapists tell us that the impact comes down to a few important themes:

  1. Kids have much less time without external online stimulation, which translates to less tolerance for boredom and letting their minds wander.
  2. Teen brains are using online material when they are assessing their own performance and value, resulting in unrealistic comparisons and potential negative self-assessments.
  3. Algorithms are feeding kids more and more of what they like, and this silo-ing means that young people are less likely to wrestle with new, challenging, and difficult ideas and material.

What does all of this mean to us, adults who work with or parent teens?

  • Carve out spaces for no screen zones. Dinner, family game night, car rides, and therapy sessions are all great places for conversations and reflection. A little digital “down time” allows the brain to go in different directions and generate new ideas.
  • Be sure to recognize that teens are seeing curated versions of others online. Help them see context by addressing this when you see it. Be aware of the impact of modeling with your own online postings and use of social media.
  • Encourage new ideas, new experiences, new directions. Give teens the tools to develop their own taste by sampling lots of different things, not just what they are being fed by algorithms. For more on this issue, consider listening to this podcast.

Every generation has its challenges; parents and professionals working with teens are obligated to adapt to the everchanging realities and provide the supports necessary to navigate them. Kids who have fewer connections are more likely to fall victim to the online risks so our relationships matter more than ever. Every single relationship has the potential to make a difference.

With gratitude to all of you,

~Britt Rathbone