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As if this was a surprise: Most teens would rather text than talk to you IRL

Published Sep 10th, 2018 8:30PM EDT
Teen social media survey
Image: Pictures/Top/REX/Shutterstock

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In what should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, a new poll of 1,141 teenagers, the findings of which are out today, shows that the number of teens who prefer to talk in-person has predictably sunk in favor of texting.

Also, what little allure Facebook held among teenagers has almost completely evaporated. This year’s Social Media, Social Life survey from Common Sense Media shows that just 15 percent of teens use Facebook as their primary social media app — down from almost 70 percent in 2012. (The winners this year, of course, are Snapchat and Instagram, with 41 percent and 22 percent popularity among teens, respectively.)

The report notes the response of one 16-year-old girl, who was asked in a focus group who she talks to on Facebook. Her response? “My grandparents.”

Findings like that, as Fortune notes, will be “fairly intuitive for anyone who has watched Facebook’s evolution from a campus-only network to the domain of sexagenerians — or the intensity with which teens text. But the survey offers some more surprising results about the impact social media has on teenagers’ mental health and self perception — or at least the impact they say it has. Indeed, most teens seem to feel that social media has enhanced their social lives and well-being. But there is some cause for concern.”

Along those lines:

Thirty-five percent of teens say they’ve been the victim of cyber-bullying, up from just 5 percent in 2012. Many teens also admit to a feeling of almost being a prisoner of their devices, with 55 percent saying they “hardly ever” put them away when hanging out with friends. Yet almost that same amount say social media distracts them when they’re with other people.

The vast majority of teens surveyed (72 percent) believe tech companies manipulate people into spending more time connected to their devices. A little less than half of teens say they delete posts that get too few “likes” or engagement.

If anything, this research points to the contradictions inherent in social media — in the way it can both help and hurts its users.

“The complexity of social media’s role in young people’s lives may frustrate those looking for easy answers or simplistic solutions,” the report notes. “But it is a reality that this survey has made abundantly clear. According to teens themselves, using social media strengthens their relationships with friends and family at the same time it detracts from face-to-face communication.

“Social media makes teens feel less lonely and more connected at the same time teens sometimes feel left out and ‘less than’ their peers. Social media helps alleviate teens’ depression by connecting them to support and inspiration, and also contributes to depression for those who get stuck in a loop of isolation and self-abnegation. As noted before, this study can’t say with certainty whether social media causes harm or improvements to teens’ well-being, but it certainly points to areas where researchers can and should do additional work.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.