Source: Taking Stock With Teens® Fall 2021 survey by Piper Sandler
Digital DevicesAccording to Common Sense Media, 67% of children and teens (age 8-18) in lower-income households have access to a computer at home, compared to 89% middle-income and 94% higher-income households . There are also disparities by race and ethnicity: 81% of Black and 83% of Latino children and teens have a computer at home, compared to 91% of White youth. Personal ownership of smartphones among children and teens is more evenly divided across income (68% lower income, 69% middle income, 65% higher income), while 74% of Black children and teens own their own smartphones compared to 70% Latino and 65% White. Younger children's access to technology is rising, with 31% of eight-year-olds having phones in 2021 (up from 11% in 2015). Children and teens commonly (79%) have game consoles in the home. For much more information on access to digital devices and how much time young people spend on their devices, view The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2021.
Social Interaction and Development
High school students text frequently, especially with friends, peers, and romantic partners but also, to a lesser extent, with parents .
Social Media Platforms
A 2018 study by Hopelab and Well Being Trust found that 93% of youth age 14-22 use social media, most daily . While a high level of use has persisted during the pandemic, teen enjoyment of social media has dropped. In 2019, 41% of teens said they enjoyed social media "a lot"; in 2021 that figure declined to 34% .
Which social media platforms are most popular among teens? It depends on how you look at it. In the fall of 2021, Piper Sandler's large, geographically diverse survey of high school teens identified Snapchat as the favorite, followed by TikTok and Instagram . However, Instagram has the highest monthly usage, followed by Snapchat and TikTok. Teen users of SnapChat check the app an average of 30 times daily . When YouTube is in the mix, it reigns as teens' favorite site .
Digital Media and Youth Development
While there has been quite a bit of research on negative aspects of the internet and social media, online environments and digital tools also offer young people positive ways to learn, grow, and connect with each other. Learn more about The Pros and Cons of Social Media for Youth on the Evidence-Based Living blog and find resources at Adolescent Development Toolkit: Teens and Media.
Digital Media and Bullying
Some teens use digital media (texting, gaming, social networking, etc.) to repeatedly harass, threaten, or embarrass a peer. In 2021, the Cyberbullying Research Center surveyed a nationally representative sample of U.S. youth age 13-17 . They found that nearly one in 4 (23%) teens had been bullied online in the last month, and 5% of teens admitted to bullying someone online. Teens who identify as transgender are more likely to be bullied online (35% compared to 24% girls and 22% boys). Similarly, youth who identify as LGBTQ (32%) are more likely to be bullied online than non-LGBTQ youth (22%). LGBTQ youth (7%) are also more likely to report that they have bullied others than are heterosexual youth (4%). For more information, visit Cyberbullying in 2021 by Age, Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Race.
High school students who are bullied online are frequently bullied in school as well, and many feel unsafe, get into fights, and carry weapons for protection .
Teens make new friends online but are less likely to date or hook up with someone they first meet online. Flirting or expressing romantic interest is common on social media sites. Most teens who have some dating experience will send flirtatious messages online; teens who have not dated are much less likely to do so. Many dating teens, especially boys, feel more connected to their romantic partner through social media. While most teens say that breaking up by text is socially unacceptable, nearly one in three teens age 13-17 have been told via text that the relationship was over . Texting, however, can also play a role in developing a positive and satisfying romantic relationship .
Adolescent girls take the brunt of unwanted online flirting. While 16% of boys age 13-17 have blocked or "unfriended" a person who was making unwanted advances, 35% of girls have done so . Cell phones and social media can enable controlling behavior before and after a relationship. Among teens age 13-17 who have dated, 13% have had a partner demand that passwords be shared, 11% have been threatened with harm online or by phone, and 8% have had online posts used against them .
"Sexting" -- sending sexually explicit messages or images electronically -- is increasing among youth, and also increases through the teen years . Sexting is often used as a form of flirting and is usually consensual . Among youth under age 18, the prevalence of sending an explicit image or message is nearly 15% and the prevalence of receiving one is 27% . Though it occurs less often than consensual sexting, non-consensual sexting is nevertheless all too common: about one in eight youth forward explicit images or messages without the permission of the original sender, and nearly one in 12 youth have a sext forwarded without their consent . Sexting may also be used to pressure someone into having sex or to actually extort money or sex from a victim ("sextortion") . Distributing sexually explicit images of a minor is illegal, and teens have been prosecuted in some cases . Sexting laws vary greatly among U.S. states .
Dating apps have become increasingly popular with young people. In 2013, just 5% of youth age 18-24 reported that they use mobile dating apps; by 2015, that figure had grown to 22% . The proportion of heterosexual college students who use dating apps may be higher: two college-based studies of heterosexual students found that nearly 40% reported using the apps [11, 12]. One non-representative, national study of young (age 14-17), sexually experienced men who have sex with men (MSM) found that just over half use MSM-specific apps to find partners for sex while 30% use general dating apps. Most (83%) of the participants who use the apps or websites reported that they do so because of a lack of access to male partners. Some (31%) do so to avoid being outed. Most of the adolescent males in this study reported that they use MSM-specific apps to meet partners for sex (69%), but they also use them to chat with friends (66%), meet new friends (61%), or find a romantic partner (50%) . Offered a different set of survey choices, heterosexual college students said that they use dating apps to have fun (94%), meet new people (91%), be social/chat with others (90%), find a dating partner (69%), and initiate sex (38%) . Some studies have linked the use of dating apps to risky sexual behavior, such as condomless anal or vaginal sex [11, 12, 13].
Common Sense Media reports that watching videos online is an extremely popular activity, with 77% of teens saying they watch daily . In 2021, YouTube was the dominant platform for video watching . Piper Sandler's Fall 2021 report identified Netflix as the most popular video platform among teens, closely followed by YouTube .
Gaming is also very popular, particularly among boys. The Common Sense survey found that 60% of boys and 24% of girls age 8-18 said they like playing video games "a lot" .
In a 2019 poll of parents, 41% reported that their teen boys play video games every day while 20% said this of teen girls. Among those whose children play every day, over half (54%) indicated play of three or more hours each day .
Researchers have not reliably established the prevalence of pornography use among youth under 18. A 2016 review of international studies could only conclude that "at least a sizable minority of all adolescents use pornography" . Both males and females view pornography, with male "sensation-seekers" the predominant group . Many youth are exposed to pornography online that they are not seeking. A 2018 meta-analysis found that one in five youth under 18 are exposed to unwanted sexual material online .
Health InformationHopelab conducted a survey of teens' (age 14-17) and young adults' (age 18-22) use of digital media to access health information and resources. In 2018, they found :
- The vast majority (87%) of teens and young adults go online for health information, particularly about fitness, nutrition, stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Nearly half of teens (49%) and most young adults (76%) have used mobile health apps.
- 90% of respondents with symptoms of depression go online for information about mental health.
A 2017 qualitative study by YTH (Youth+Tech+Health) described Google as a popular but not entirely trusted way to get sexual health information . According to the study, young people regard health professionals as the best resource for answering their sexual health questions, but Google was often the first stop, sometimes replacing a health care visit. The privacy and speed offered by the internet make it especially appealing to young people. Young people who are afraid to turn to parents or other adults with their questions are especially likely to use the internet to find sexual health information. The study is reported at TECHsex: Youth Sexuality and Health Online.
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