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Half of Teenagers Online 'Almost Constantly,' But Fewer Use Facebook

Snapchat.pngYouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat have supplanted Facebook as the most popular online platforms among U.S. teens—almost all of whom now report access to a smartphone, and nearly half of whom say they are online nearly constantly.

That's according to a newly published report from the Pew Research Center titled "Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018." Based on survey interviews with 743 youths ages 13-17 (as well as 1,058 parents) in March and April of this year, the report updates a similar survey conducted by Pew in 2014-15.

The new results show how the online landscape for young people is rapidly shifting.

Three years ago, Facebook was king, and just under a quarter of teens said they were online constantly. Now, about half of 13-17 year olds report using Facebook, and just 10 percent say it's the platform they use most often. Compare that to YouTube (used by 85 percent of teens, 32 percent of whom say it's the platform they use most often) and Snapchat (69 percent, 35 percent.)

The increasing ubiquity of mobile devices and social media has presented significant challenges for schools and parents alike. Last year, for example, Education Week rounded up 10 big social media controveries that had roiled schools, including shooting threats, racist hate speech, and sharing of nude photos. And in April, we took a deep look at principals' feelings of frustration and helplessness with the problem. An exclusive survey by the Education Week Research Center found that more than half of school leaders are extremely concerned about student social media use outside of school, but just 14 percent felt 'very prepared' to help students use social media responsibly.

Mixed views on social media's impact

Amid such concerns, the new survey results from Pew also present an interesting perspective on how teens view social media's impact on their own lives.PewTable.png

Nearly half of those surveyed said they believe social media has neither a positive nor a negative effect on people their age.

Thirty-one percent of teens said social media has a mostly positive affect, citing the ways it helps them connect with friends and family, find news and information, and meet others with similar interests. And almost a fourth of teens said the opposite, citing bullying, a loss of in-person contact, the propagation of unrealistic views of others' lives, and distractions as reasons why social media has a negative impact.

Pew also noted some variation across teens of different backgrounds. 

Teens living in households earning less than $30,000 annually are almost twice as likely to use Facebook as teens living in households earning $75,000 or more per year.

Boys were more likely than girls to play video games, but girls (50 percent) were more likely than boys (39 percent) to say they were online almost constantly.

And while access to smartphones was near ubiquitous for teens from every gender, racial/ethnic group, and household income level, there were meaningful disparities in access to desktop or laptop computers. Seventy-five percent of teens from lower-income households reported access to such devices, compared to 96 percent of teens from higher-income households. And 82 percent of Hispanic teens said they had access to a desktop or laptop computer, compared to 90 percent of white teens and 89 percent of black teens.

An ongoing challenge

So what's the big takeaway for schools?

Most likely, the Pew report will serve primarily to put hard numbers on a reality that educators and administrators see and experience every day.

It's no secret that teens' preferred platforms are constantly shifting, creating an ongoing challenge for schools struggling to keep up. (The same goes for lawmakers and regulators, who have recently focused their attention on Facebook, even as YouTube--now far more popular among teens--has faced serious questions about the appropriateness of its content and the type of data it collects and uses from kids.)

And it's now empirically true that teens are online more than even just a few years ago. Back in 2014-15, Pew found that 24 percent of 13-17 year olds used the internet almost constantly, 56 percent used it several times a day, and 20 percent of teens were online less frequently.  

Now, just 11 percent of teens say they go online less than several times a day, and 45 percent say they're online almost constantly.

Photo: Snapchat is a popular app among today's students.--Bill Tiernan

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