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Kids Use Social Media. But How Much They Use It Might Surprise You.

Like a verdant marshland, things are constantly changing on the social media landscape. What was once lush and blooming (hello Facebook), is now moldering and giving way to something new. And teens seem to always be on the cutting edge of that life cycle. So what are these youthful marsh dwellers turning to these days?

The new Pew Research Center survey of American teenagers, ages 13 to 17, suggests that quite a bit has changed in the last five to six years. Facebook? Oh, that’s yesterday’s news. Only 32% of teens report ever even glancing at Facebook (Meta), down from 71% in 2014-15. Today’s big winners are YouTube and TikTok.

According to Pew, YouTube is used regularly by a whopping 95% of the teen crowd, with one in five declaring they use it “almost constantly.” The short-form video app TikTok is right there at the top, too, growing quickly since its international debut in 2018. Some 67% of teens say they watch and post to TikTok and 16% of all teens say they use it almost constantly. From there, the remaining major players are Instagram (at a 62% usage share) and Snapchat (at 59%). Both Instagram and Snapchat have grown since 2014-15, when roughly half of teens said they used Instagram (52%) and about four-in-ten said they used Snapchat (41%).

Now that may make it sound like Facebook is the only one in the frontline social-media gang that’s been hobbled, but not so. Twitter has taken a hit, too, with 23% of teens saying they ever use it, compared with 33% in 2014-15. And Tumblr has all but disappeared. (Which, when considering some of the content that has popped up there, probably isn’t such a bad thing.) About 14% of teens in 2014-15 reported using Tumblr and just 5% of teens say they use the platform today.

So, how are those young social media users accessing all that media content? Well, Pew reported that 95% of the 13 to 17 group now have their own smartphones to flick and scroll through daily. But that’s not their only device of choice. Nine-of-10 of teenagers are also going online with desktop or laptop computers, and 80% are using their gaming consoles.

I should also repeat the fact that while some social media apps are waning, teen screen use has skyrocketed. We recently reported that, on average, screen use went up among teens to eight hours and 39 minutes a day. That seems almost impossible to believe, but it’s true.

And here’s an interesting thing that the Pew Research Center’s survey revealed: When kids who were “constantly” using some social-media platform were asked if they felt they were spending too much time online, 53% agreed that was true. And when asked to reflect on how easy or difficult it would be to quit social media, 54% of all teens said they’d have a tough time doing so—and of the crew who said they use social media constantly, 78% said it would be a really tough slog.

So, if you’ve been sitting around waiting for this social media craze to go the way of the floppy disk—while hoping that your kids would freely put down their phones for a fun family gathering—well, you might want to invest your waiting time in other areas. If anything, this latest Pew study suggests that social media will morph, change and live on. And quitting those apps and platforms will grow harder and harder with use.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all is doom and gloom. The great thing about seeking out research in this area is that it keeps you informed. And it gives you things you can think about with your own social-media use and talk about with those social media users around you. As I’m sure you already know, information is power. How you choose to use that power in this social media wetland is up to you.

Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.