Social Media Use Among Teens: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

social media and teens
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Social media is revolutionizing the way we communicate, obtain information, think, and form communities. Because platforms are relatively new and ever-evolving, the societal and psychological effects of social media are manifesting faster than research can digest them. Teenagers, the most avid social media using cohort, face particular risks. Social media may be affecting not just their present but their future in ways we have only just started assessing.

Social media use among teens is quite prevalent. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey[1] noted that 95 percent of U.S. teenagers aged 13-17 had access to a smartphone and more than two-thirds of them reported having Instagram and Snapchat accounts. Nearly half the teenage population, 45 percent, described themselves as being online “almost constantly.”

Parents can have a hard time monitoring and understanding social media. Some parents have a technological deficit compared to their digitally native teenagers, which can make filtering Internet content nearly impossible. Even Internet-savvy parents can’t devote the time and energy to keep up with an always changing social media landscape the way a teenager can. Following children on social media is one thing. Comprehending the extent to which social media may be shaping them is quite another.

Is social media good or bad for teens? There’s no simple answer. There are some benefits of social media usage for teenagers. Social media can help foster creativity and individuality that may be tough for some teens to express in person. Social media can help children pursue their interests and both encounter and become accepting of greater diversity. Social media also can help teenagers rally around social causes and engage with their local communities. There are ways to use social media as a classroom tool for instruction and collaboration.

But there are also significant dangers of social media with unknown long-term effects. Excessive social media use can create a myriad of problems. It can show many of the signs of behavioral addiction including relapses and withdrawal. 72 percent of teenagers check for social media messages as soon as they wake up and 57 percent reported trying to curtail their social media usage.[2]

There may be mental consequences of spending an excessive amount of time on social media. It is significantly altering the life experience and social structures for teenagers who are at a crucial point in their intellectual and social development. Social media may also be having a physical effect. Too much smartphone usage can lead to poor posture and respiratory problems.[3]

Social media may be linked with depression in teenagers. Incidents of depression have spiked among young people over the past two decades. The rate of children age 12-17 reporting a major depressive episode within the past year jumped 52 percent (8.3 percent to 13.2 percent) from 2005 to 2017.[4] That same trend did not show up in adults 26 or older where it was found to be “weak or nonexistent”. Researchers have noted a “positive association” between depression and frequent social media usage.[5]

Depression in youth can have a dramatic impact on a teenager’s future. Depression can lead to poorer academic and professional achievement and be a drain on future earnings. Depression can also harm the forming of personal relationships and increase the risk of substance abuse.

Social media users create carefully curated versions of their life and physical appearance. Conflating the curated versions with reality can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and fear of missing out. Social media can also create unhealthy body image feedback among both women and men. The most frequent social media users among young adults are more than two times as likely to develop eating concerns.[6]

Teenagers may struggle to grasp the consequences of their digital footprint. With still-developing brains, teenagers can be prone to risky behavior and exhibit poor impulse control. Those issues can be problematic on social media. The mode of communication on those platforms is personal, which fosters the illusion of an intimate space. In reality, social media can be painfully public.

Teens may share inappropriate material or make ill-advised comments on social media sites, which stay online as a permanent record. Poor, spur of the moment decisions can linger to haunt teens as they apply to colleges and apply for jobs. Unwitting sharing of personal information on social media can also leave teens vulnerable to online predators who can exploit the anonymity many social media platforms provide.

Knowing how your community’s teenagers are utilizing social media — for good or ill — is important. At Pride Surveys, we understand that your school is a one-of-a-kind learning environment that, while it may share characteristics and similarities with other schools, is unique at its core. That’s why we offer a variety of options for custom school surveys to meet your school’s needs and address your specific goals and challenges.

[1] “Teens, Social Media, & Technology 2018” Accessed 13 May 2019 at

[2] “How Teens and Parents Navigate Screen Time and Device Distractions” Accessed 16 May 2019 at

[3] “The Effect of Smartphone Usage Time on Posture and Respiratory Function” Accessed 16 May 2019 at

[4] “Age, Period, and Cohort Trends in Mood Disorder Indicators and Suicide Related Outcomes in a Nationally Representative Dataset, 2005–2017” Accessed 14 May 2019 at

[5] “Association between Social Media Use and Depression among U.S. Young Adults” Accessed 14 May 2019 at

[6] “The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among U.S. Young Adults” Accessed 15 May 2019 at


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