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How Teens Use Social Media and Digital Technology in 2022

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

When a former Facebook employee testified before Congress in 2021, their testimony led to an avalanche of news stories across media platforms about the dangers of social media to teen mental health. The employee testified that Facebook – more specifically Instagram – intentionally withheld internal data about the harm social media use causes teens. This confirmed fears that circulated for years about the dangers of social media to teen mental health.

Critics of social media jumped to point the finger, saying, essentially, “We told you so.”

Upon closer inspection, here’s what the data behind the testimony revealed. Social media can have a negative effect on specific groups of tweens and teens:

  • Preteen and teen girls ages 10-14
  • Teens ages 13-18 diagnosed with a mental health condition
  • Teens who experience bullying
  • Tweens and teens consistently practice negative self-talk
  • Teens with low self-esteem/self-image
  • Teens who are heavy social media users

In addition, researchers identified four types of social media use that increase risk of mental health problems:

  1. Social comparing: using social media to determine popularity/social status
  2. Appearance comparing: using social media to monitor/judge/compare personal looks and fashion with others on social media
  3. Toxic talk: engaging in negative comments, messages, and/or reactions to posts on social media
  4. Heavy use: using social two hours a day or more/checking social media three times a day or more

One thing we’ve learned about social media over the past decade is to view the extreme points of view about its impact with a healthy perspective. This is true for overstating as well as minimizing the impact of social media on our teens. The truth is somewhere between the extremes. Yes, data indicate social media can harm teens – but data also indicates it can help them.

Evolve Discusses Social Media and Internet Use

Before we present the latest data on teen social media use in the U.S., we encourage you to read our previously published articles on the subject. This has been an important topic for us, as reflected by the following titles:

Teen Social Media Use 2012-2018

The Digital Census 2017

A Report on Media Use by Tweens and Teens

 Socioeconomic Differences in Tween and Teen Media Use

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Tween and Teen Media Use

The Risks of Social Media to Adolescent Mental Health

If this topic interests you, please click those links and read those articles. Even better, follow the links in those article to the original, peer-reviewed research on this topic. You can see the raw data for yourself, and decide whether you agree with our overall assessment of social media and internet use among teens:

Social media itself isn’t the problem – it’s how we use it.

We’ll offer one more takeaway from the previous research and data on a related, but more general topic: screen time. Here’s what teens said about screen time a report published by Common Sense Media:

Conflict with parents over screen time causes more psychological distress for teens
than screen time itself.

With all that in mind, we’ll now share the latest data on social media and digital technology use among teens.

The New Data: What Are Teens Doing Online in 2022?

Data scientists at the Pew Research Center conducted an online survey of 1,316 teens ages 13-17 from April 14 to May 4, 2022, and published their finding in an August 2022 report called “Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022.” Pew researchers asked teen participants a series of detailed questions about their social and digital media use. Alongside this information on patterns of social and digital media use, they collected the following demographic information:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Metropolitan Status (urban, suburban, rural)
  • Household Income

We’ll rely on the data on age and gender for most of this article, because – and this may surprise some people – we see remarkable parity in all social media/internet use across all the rest of these demographic metrics. To set the stage for the overall prevalence of internet and social media use among teens across demographics in 2022, we’ll share statistics on YouTube use that demonstrates this parity.

We think you’ll be surprised – we were.

For the record, teens consider YouTube as social media. To confirm this, simply ask all the teens you know.

Enough preamble: let’s look at YouTube use by teens in the demographic categories we list above. This gives away some of the data we share later, but it’s worth it, because it presents a good basic understanding of use and access to online media around the country.

YouTube and U.S. Teens in 2022: Percentage of Use, Demographic Groups

  • Total: 95%
  • Gender:
    • Females: 92%
    • Males: 97%
  • Race/Ethnicity:
    • Black: 94%
    • Hispanic: 95%
    • White: 94%
  • Age:
    • 13-14: 94%
    • 15-17: 95%
  • Metropolitan Status
    • Urban: 95%
    • Suburban: 94%
    • Rural: 95%
  • Household Income (annual):
    • <$30,000: 93%
    • $30,000-$74,999: 94%
    • $75,000+: 95%

As we mentioned, the parity in use across these demographic groups is a surprise. This shows how embedded digital culture has become in our overall culture over the past decade – you’ll see how internet use has changed in just a moment. For now, we’ll report that with regards to the differences in internet and social media use among teen demographic groups, researcher from Pew noticed only one significant set of differences.

Here’s what they observed:

“Black and Hispanic teens more likely than White teens to say they are almost constantly on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.”

With regards to socioeconomic differences, this surprises us. We expected greater differences between urban/rural media users and low-income/high income users, but the data proved our expectations incorrect: teens everywhere have access to and use social media in varying degrees of frequency largely unrelated to their demographic category.

Now let’s look at the meat and potatoes of the study.

Social Media Use Has Changed Dramatically Since 2014

One goal of this survey was to track the changes in social media and internet use since the last major Pew poll on teen internet use, conducted in 2104-2015. These past seven years have been eventful, to say the least. We’ll leave aside the obvious major events and focus on the technological changes that affect us all.

Consider this: iPhones appeared in 2007. Between 2007 and 2010, smartphones were relatively rare among teens. Then, around 2012, smartphone prevalence exploded. Research shows that in 2012, 41 percent of teens had their own smartphone, and in 2018, 89 percent of teens had their own cell phone. In 2022, research shows 95 percent of teens in the U.S. have their own smartphone.

Now let’s take a look at what the researcher at the Pew Foundation learned about how teens use their smartphones and other internet-enabled digital devices. We’ll start with the data about the change in use of platforms over the past seven years.

Spoiler alert: Facebook is now, officially, for adults and those mature humans teens call “old people.”

The general question teens answered below was:

“Do you ever use…[insert platform]?”

Here’s the data:

Teen Social Media Use, Percentages: Change in Major Platforms 2014/2015-2022

  • YouTube
    • 2014-2015: 67%
    • 2022: 95%
      • 19% say they’re on YouTube “almost constantly”
    • TikTok
      • 2014-2015: n/a
      • 2022: 67%
        • 16% say they’re on TikTok “almost constantly”
      • Instagram
        • 2014-2015: 52%
        • 2022: 62%
          • 10% say they’re on Instagram “almost constantly”
        • Snapchat
          • 2014-2015: 41%
          • 2022: 59%
            • 15% say they’re on Snapchat “almost constantly”
          • Facebook
            • 2014-2015: 71%
            • 2022: 32%
              • 2% say they’re on Facebook “almost constantly”
            • Twitter
              • 2014-2015: 33%
              • 2022: 23%
            • Twitch
              • 2014-2015: n/a
              • 2022: 20%
            • WhatsApp
              • 2014-2015: n/a
              • 2022: 17%
            • Reddit
              • 2014-2015: n/a
              • 2022: 14%
            • Tumblr
              • 2014-2015: 14%
              • 2022: 5%

Next, the researchers asked a follow-up question on frequency of use:

What platform are you on almost constantly?

Here’s how teens answered:

  • 19% say they’re on YouTube almost constantly
  • 16% say they’re on TikTok almost constantly
  • 10% say they’re on Instagram almost constantly
  • 15% say they’re on Snapchat almost constantly
  • 2% say they’re on Facebook almost constantly

That confirms what many adults know already: teens love TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. But how many adults knew that YouTube was the single most visited and used social media app among teens?

We know teens love YouTube, but we didn’t know how much. The answer lies in the frequency of use: teens use YouTube 42 percent more than TikTok, the next most popular app among this demographic group.

Beyond Prevalence: How do Teens Feel About Their Social Media Use?

Next, researchers explored teens’ subjective perspective on their social media use. First, they asked, in general, how teens felt about the time they spend on social media.

Here’s how teens answered.

Teens On Social Media: Too Little, Too Much, Or Just Right?

  • 55% said they spend about the right amount of time on social media
    • By gender:
      • Females: 50%
      • Males: 61%
    • By age:
      • 13-14: 63%
      • 15-17: 50%
    • 36% said they spend too much time on social media
      • By gender:
        • Females: 41%
        • Males: 31%
      • By age:
        • 13-45: 28%
        • 15-17: 42%
      • 8% said they don’t spend enough time on social media sites
        • By gender:
          • Females: 8%
          • Males: 8%
        • By age:
          • 13-14: 9%
          • 15-17: 8%

Next, given the significant prevalence of daily use, the researchers wanted to know how easy or hard teens thought it might be to stop using social media sites altogether.

Here’s how teens answered.

Teens on Social Media: Would it Be Easy for You to Quit?

  • Overall:
    • 46% said it would be easy. Of these:
      • 26% said it would be somewhat easy
      • 20% said it would be very easy
    • 54% said it would be hard. Of these:
      • 35% said it would be somewhat hard
      • 18% said it would be very hard
    • By gender:
      • Females: 58% said it would be hard to give up social media
        • 15% said it would be very easy
      • Males: 49% said it would be hard to give up social media
        • 25% said it would be very easy
      • By age:
        • Older teens (15-17): 58% say it would be somewhat difficult to give up social media
        • Younger teens (13-15): 48% say it would be somewhat difficult

Here’s another thing we’ve learned about teen social media use in our years of thinking and writing about it in this context. While teens may not always be entirely forthcoming with their parents about how and how often they use the internet and social media, when they answer surveys like this, their answers are incredibly informative and show a perspective about social media use that’s more nuanced and evolved than that shown by most parents.

Whereas parents want to know if social media use is good or bad for teens, teens understand that it can be both – depending on how it’s used. Whereas parents want to know who it’s good or bad for and why, teens understand that it can be good or bad for anyone, and whether it’s good or bad depends on the individual and their specific personal, emotional, social, and psychological circumstances.

This foregrounds something we point out quite often in our articles and blogs:

If you want to know what’s going on with teens, the two best things to do are watch them and listen to them.

if you watch the right things and ask the right questions, they’ll show you and tell you – and you’ll learn everything you need to know.

Did Access to Digital Media and Frequency of Use Change from 2014/15 to 2022 for Teens?

We’ll wind down the data section of this article with big picture information that can help put the previous data in context. It’s easy to forget we’re living in a time of fast-paced technological transformation. PCs became common in homes during the 80s and cellphones appeared in the 1990s. By the 2000s, a majority of people had home computers and cellphones. And in the 2010s, access to smartphones, PCs, laptops, tablets, and other internet-enable devices became common.

Now, in 2022, more people than ever have both smartphones and a computer. Which brings us to the last two sets of data we’ll share. This series of questions was about digital access. Specifically, researchers wanted to learn about the change in access to various digital devices between 2014/2015 and 2022.

We hinted at it above.

Here’s the data:

Change in Digital Access Among Teens: 2014/2015-2022

  • Smartphone access:
    • 2014-2015: 73%
    • 2022: 95%
  • Desktop/Laptop computer access:
    • 2014-2015: 87%
    • 2022: 90%
  • Gaming console access:
    • 2014-2015: 81%
    • 2022: 80%

That’s interesting: gaming is still as popular as ever, but fewer people have access to gaming consoles. We think it’s safe to assume many teens play games on phones and PCs now, as compared to gaming consoles, which would explain that small, one percent decrease in access.

One item above is obvious to us through observation. Compared to seven years ago, almost everyone has a smartphone now – and while there was some disparity in access to computers overall, seven years ago, that gap in access is closing.

The last pattern of behavior among teens researchers explored was overall frequency of internet use. They wanted to learn about any changes in patterns or frequency of use among teens between 2014/2015 and 2022. To that end, they asked how often, one a given day or during a given week, each survey participant used the internet.

Here’s how teens answered:

  • Several times a week or less:
    • 2014-2015: 8%
    • 2022: 3%
  • About once a day:
    • 2014-2015: 12%
    • 2022: 3%
  • Several times a day:
    • 2014-2015: 56%
    • 2022: 48%
  • Almost constantly:
    • 2014-2015: 24%
    • 2022: 46%
  • Overall daily use:
    • 2014-2015: 92%
    • 2022: 97%

This information is also interesting.

While overall daily use increased only five percent, constant use almost doubled, which explains the decreases in once-a-day use and several-times-a-day use. Our assumption is that a significant percentage of teens who used the internet infrequently increased, and this change contributes to the frequency of almost-constant and daily use, at 46 percent and 97 percent, respectively.

Teens and Social Media: Help For Parents

We’ll reiterate a point we make above.

Teens indicate that conflict with parents over internet use and screen time causes them more psychological and emotional distress than anything they see or experience while on the internet or using screen-based technology.

That’s not a blanket pass for unlimited, unrestricted internet access or screen time: there are harmful and dangerous aspects of the internet that teens should avoid, and parents should restrict access to: that’s understood.

We say that because the evidence shows that the impact of social media and internet use on teens is nuanced. Talking about it in reductive, black-and-white, all-or-nothing language is neither productive nor reflective of the facts. For some teens, social media degrades self-confidence and self-esteem, and is associated with increased levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. For others, social media boosts self-esteem, increases self-confidence, and creates social connections when making those social connections is challenging.

Parents of teens in the former category might consider restricting their teen’s internet use, and work with their teen to develop a healthy, life-affirming relationship with online activity and social media: some parents may consider seeking professional support to help their teen make the changes they need to make. Parents of teens in the latter category might consider talking to those teens about the positive aspects of the internet and social media: we expect those parents might learn how to use the internet and social media to benefit their lives, too.

And for parents who aren’t sure which category best fits their teen, We’ll reiterate another point we make above. The best way to find out what’s going on with your teen is to watch and ask. In most cases, they’ll show you and tell you everything you need to know.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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