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Teens are hooked on social media. But how does it make them feel about themselves?

They’re well aware of its issues.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Justin Sullivan / Getty
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Almost 90 percent of American teens now have their own smartphones, and some 70 percent use social media multiple times per day. But as social networking services are increasingly criticized for being too addictive — and many are now building tools to limit their usage to “time well spent” — how does social media affect young users’ self-esteem and mental health?

That’s one focus of a new study by media nonprofit Common Sense, which polled more than 1,100 U.S. 13- to 17-year-olds this past spring. It also compared some responses to a similar poll it conducted in 2012, when fewer teens had their own smartphones.

Broadly, teens seem aware of the negative consequences of too much social media use:

  • Nearly three-quarters of teens believe that tech companies are manipulating users to spend more time glued to their devices.
  • More than half of social media users say it distracts them from doing homework or paying attention to the people they’re with.
  • Some 21 percent of teens say using social media makes them feel more popular, 20 percent said more confident, and 18 percent said it makes them feel better about themselves.
  • A quarter said it makes them feel less lonely, and 16 percent said it makes them feel less depressed. Some 8 percent said it makes them feel more anxious, but 12 percent said less anxious.

(Worth noting: These add up to relatively small totals. The vast majority said that using social media doesn’t make much of a difference either way in how they feel.)

The study also dives deeper into how different groups of teens feel differently about social media. Vulnerable teens — those who ranked low on a “social-emotional well-being” scale — see more drastic effects from social media, both good and bad. They are more likely to say social media makes them lonely or depressed. But they’re also more likely to say social media makes them feel less lonely or depressed than those with medium or high social-emotional well-being.

Some other interesting findings:

  • The report shows yet again that Facebook has fallen out of favor among teens. Just 15 percent of U.S. teens said they use Facebook as their main social site, down from 68 percent in 2012. Teens consider Snapchat (41 percent) and Instagram (22 percent) their main social-media tool now; both mobile-native services were just getting going in 2012.
  • Texting is now the preferred form of communication, with 35 percent of teens saying that’s their favorite way to communicate, compared with in-person (32 percent), social media (16 percent) and video chatting (10 percent). In 2012, in-person communication was the most popular.
  • More teens have been exposed to racist, sexist and homophobic content on social media than they were in 2012. Those who “often” or “sometimes” encounter racist content has increased to 52 percent in 2018 from 43 percent in 2012.
  • Girls are more likely (54 percent) to say they sometimes feel left out or excluded after seeing social media posts of friends at events they weren’t invited to than boys (39 percent).

You can view the whole report here:

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