The fresh figures on US teens’ top digital media picks from the Pew Research Center can be a great conversation starter for parents.
I mean, we can ask our kids if they’re surprised that YouTube is No. 1, with a whopping 95% of their peers (US 13-17 year-olds) having used the platform (up 10% from Pew’s 2018 figure). Or we can ask them how they would rank the Top 10 (see the first chart here or at Pew).
They might find it interesting that TikTok, still a fairly distant second at 67%, wasn’t even on Pew’s chart in 2018, but that it bumped Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook down a notch since then, though keeping the same order and in the same ballpark with Instagram and Snapchat. They may not be surprised that No. 3 Instagram, at 62%, is down 10% from 2018 or that No. 4 Snapchat is down 10% too, from 69%. But they’re likely to be surprised to know that Facebook is in US teens’ Top 5, even though down from 51% four years ago to 32% now.
That the numbers are down for some of these popular services could be a sign that teens’ digital media use is diversifying beyond the well-known ones.
Hello Twitch and WhatsApp, too
Twitter and Tumblr are both down in teen usage, but Reddit’s teen figure has doubled to 14% since 2018. Like TikTok, Twitch (No. 7) and WhatsApp (No. 8) are now actually on the chart for the first time, at 20% and 17% respectively. [It’s important to note that Pew points out that the wording of its questions isn’t the same from survey to survey – for example, its 2018 and 2015 charts both had only teens’ Top 7 platforms.]
One other interesting thing to zoom in on is the phrase “almost constantly” used in Pew’s reports across all three years. “This study also explores the frequency with which teens are on each of the top five online platforms…. Fully 35% of teens say they are using at least one of them ‘almost constantly’,” authors Emily A. Vogels, Risa Gelles-Watnick and Navid Massarat write. For example, though 95% of teens surveyed said they’ve used YouTube, only 20% say they use it “almost constantly” (for TikTok, it was 67% who ever used it vs. 16% “almost constantly”).
It’s worth noting, too, that “social media” is not an undifferentiated mass of media services and really more diverse than television was in the last century, from 1:1 messaging and group chat (WhatsApp) to short video consuming/producing (TikTok) to long and short video viewing/producing (YouTube) to more private socializing (Snapchat) to livestreaming (Twitch) to kind of all the above (Instagram and Facebook) – and even all of that is pretty darn simplistic.
Some things don’t change
As for being online in general, Pew says “the share of teens who say they are online almost constantly has roughly doubled since 2014-’15 (46% now and 24% then),” but I think it’s important to note that the current figure is up only 1% since 2018, when 45% of teens told them they were online “almost constantly.” And in 2018, Pew pointed out that “teens who are constantly online are just as likely to socialize with their friends offline.”
I doubt that has changed, but let’s ask our kids if that’s the case for them. Their response may reflect what research has shown – that most teens are relieved, if not happier than ever, to be able to socialize with their friends face-to-face, since the pandemic has eased (this study represents their own views on this).
It’s certainly interesting to see what’s popular now and how things have and haven’t changed, right? But the best thing about all this data is the food for family discussion it represents. Because “family-engaged” teens (representing some two-thirds of young media users) “seem to be doing just fine,” wrote one of the authors of another important study that came out this year.
- Just out this summer: the very comprehensive, scholarly “Handbook of Adolescent Digital Media Use and Mental Health” from researchers on both sides of the Atlantic (published by Cambridge University Press)
- “Adults undervalue teen friendships. Here’s how to support them.” in the Washington Post
- Demonstrating how individual and contextual the effects of teens’ social media use are: “Spending time online can boost children’s wellbeing – depending on their social framework” from researchers of Global Kids Online
- “Most kids are fine online: New study” here in NetFamilyNews: about research published last May looking at a huge nationally representative sample of US 13-18 year-olds