New research reveals how teens use social media

YouTube is the most popular online hangout for students ages 13-17, followed closely by Instagram and Snapchat, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center that examines how teens use social media.

With smartphone use now a ubiquitous element of teenage life—95% of teens say they own or have access to a smartphone—nearly half of teens say they’re online “almost constantly,” and nine in 10 teens go online at least several times a day.

Move Over Facebook

Four years ago, the last time Pew researched how teens use social media, the most popular online destination for teens ages 13-17 was Facebook; now, only 51% of teens say they use the site. Meanwhile, 85% of teens use YouTube, 72% use Instagram, and 69% use Snapchat.

However, there are differences in how teens use social media based on their family’s income level. While only 36% of teens living in households earning more than $75,000 a year use Facebook, 70% of teens from households earning less than $30,000 a year use the site.

The survey reveals not only where teens are spending their time online, but also how they feel about the impact of social media on their lives. While 31% of teens believe social media has mostly a positive effect, 24% describe it as mostly negative.

Among those who say that social media has a mostly positive effect, 40% say it helps them interact with friends and family—and 16% say they use social media to find news and information. Among those who say its effects are mostly negative, 27% cite bullying, 17% say it harms personal relationships, and 14% say teens can become too distracted or addicted to their devices.

Why do these findings matter to K-12 educators and administrators?

Knowing how teens use social media can help teachers plan lessons that use students’ favorite online platforms to engage them more deeply in learning. But doing so requires a school web filter that can apply very granular policies to students’ social media use.

For instance, ContentKeeper’s web filtering solution for schools can filter specific web pages or types of content within a larger social media domain, even if it’s SSL encrypted. With many school web filters, administrators either have to block or allow access to all of Facebook, YouTube, or other social media platforms—but that’s not the case with ContentKeeper.

Say you want students to be able to access YouTube videos for instruction, but you don’t want students to have unfettered access to the website from a school-owned device. With ContentKeeper, you can block students’ access to features such as the comments section of a social media website, as well as their ability to like or upload content. You can also block students’ access to all YouTube content except for specified YouTube channels or videos that meet YouTube’s SafeSearch criteria. And a feature called Dynamic Whitelisting allows teachers to add YouTube videos to their school’s learning management system or to a class website, without having to involve IT staff to make sure students can access this material.

ContentKeeper also gives school leaders fine-tuned control over students’ access to social media websites by time of day. For instance, you can block students’ access to sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat during school, to make sure students remain on task—but allow access to these sites from the school’s network or from a school-issued device once classes are over.

What’s more, ContentKeeper provides very detailed reports about students’ social media use. Whereas many systems can tell you only that a student was on Facebook, for instance, ContentKeeper can tell you which specific Facebook pages the student accessed—and at what time of day. This information could be very useful if you have to investigate cyberbullying, online threats, or other misuse of the web. And the same goes for teachers’ social media use as well.

As the Pew survey shows, social media platforms have become an integral part of teens’ online experience. A tool like ContentKeeper enables K-12 educators and administrators to control and monitor students’ use of these sites from school devices or networks—ensuring a safe and productive learning experience.

For more than 20 years, ContentKeeper has delivered comprehensive, accessible web security solutions for global enterprises, educational institutions and government agencies. We enable our customers to protect their networks, users and data from cyber threats while embracing mobile technology, Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-based services. 

The former editor of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce has 20 years of experience writing about education and technology.