How Teens' Social Media Use Changing: New Pew Study

June 20, 2018

Parents of teens probably knew this already, but the Pew Research Center just confirmed it for everybody: YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are US 13-17 year-olds’ top social media picks now – at 85%, 72% and 69%, respectively. That’s according to Pew’s just-released “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018.” [The percentages add up to more than 100% because, as is well known, teens use multiple social media apps and services, often simultaneously.] Filling out the top 7 were Facebook in the 4th position (at 51%), followed by Twitter (32%), Tumblr (9%) and Reddit (7%).

Pew chart

Snapchat is No. 1, though, for frequency of use. When Pew asked its respondents what social media they use most often, 35% said Snapchat, as opposed to 32% YouTube and 15% Instagram. That might have something to do with the fact that teens use Snapchat as much for chatting (which is very much like texting, obviously a high-frequency tech activity) as anything else.

Snapchat streaks could be a bit of a factor too. They’re a kind of game that’s unique to Snapchat whereby friends will send each other a snap every day and see how long they can keep it going (streaks can be entertaining, transactional or stressful, depending on the people involved and how they’re feeling that day; for more, see Those two factors are just speculation on my part; the important takeaway is that – because each social media service has unique features and each user has their own uses and intentions (which can vary by time of day, even!), it’s hard to generalize about its use, and solid research like this is the best possible way to get the big picture.

Incidentally, a Snap spokesperson just told me that 13-17 year-olds aren’t Snapchat’s largest age group. They actually come in at third place in the app at 20% of its users, after 18-24 year-olds (37%) and 25-34 year-olds (27%). People 35+ are the app’s smallest cohort at 16%.

Some more interesting highlights from this report:

  • Smartphones: “95% of teens [97% of girls, 93% of boys] now report they have a smartphone or access to one,” up 22% over Pew’s last survey in 2014-’15. Income is hardly a factor: 93% of 13-14 YOs in <$30k/year households and 93% in households with incomes of $30k-74,999 “have or have access at home to a smartphone,” while 97% of teens in households of $75,000+ do.
  • Computers: 88% of teens have or have access to a laptop or desktop at home.
  • Use levels: “45%…say they are online on a near-constant basis,” up from 24% in the last survey.
  • Gaming’s huge: Not surprisingly, based on past Pew research, 90% of US teens – 97% of boys, 83% of girls – play digital games somehow (computer, console or phone), and 84% “have access to a game console at home”; 85% of teens in households earning $30,000/year a year have a game console at home, up from 67% in 2014-2015.
  • Different platforms: Teen use of Facebook has dropped 20% since Pew’s last report, where, at 71%, it was No. 1 among US teens. The % hasn’t changed much at Twitter and Tumblr. Pew didn’t even ask teens about YouTube in the last survey (possibly because they and society in general didn’t see it as social media). Reddit wasn’t in the last survey either.
  • Use diversifying: No single platform dominates teens’ social media use. Facebook used to.
  • Income: A big change over 10 years ago was that “lower-income teens are more likely to gravitate toward Facebook.”
  • Gender: Girls are more likely than boys to say they use Snapchat most (42% vs. 29%), and boys YouTube more (39% vs. 25%).
  • Race/ethnicity: Snapchat is used more often by white teens (41%) than Hispanic (29%) or black (23%) teens; “black teens are more likely than whites to identify Facebook as their most used site (26% vs. 7%).”
  • Teens’ views on impacts: Pew reports “no clear consensus among teens about the effect that social media has on the lives of young people today”; the largest percentage (45%) said the effect has been “neither positive nor negative,” 31% says the effect is mostly positive, 24% mostly negative.

Pew gave the respondents themselves a chance to describe how social media affected them positively or negatively. Please check out the report for the responses that the study’s authors chose to highlight.

This blog previously appeared on on June 1, 2018. Please see the original post here.

Written by

Anne Collier

A writer and youth advocate, Anne Collier has been chronicling the public discussion about youth and digital media since 1997. She is founder and executive director of national nonprofit organization The Net Safety Collaborative (TNSC), which runs NetFamilyNews, and piloted a social media helpline for schools in California in 2016. The project was recognized by the National School Boards Association as one of 6 startups in its Education Technology Innovation Showcase. That year Anne also gave her TEDx talk, “The Heart of Digital Citizenship,” at the ITU’s World Summit on Information Technology in Geneva, Switzerland. She serves on the trust & safety advisory boards of Meta, Roblox and YouTube, based in the US, and Teleperformance and Yubo, based in France. She also advises investors in tech innovation that support youth mental health and wellbeing.

Anne has served on three national task forces on youth and Internet safety, including as co-chair of the Obama administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group, which delivered its report to Congress, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet,” in June 2010, and the national Internet Safety Technical Task Force of 2008 at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center. In 2013-’14 she served on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning & the Internet.In 2011 and ’12, she was a member of the curriculum working group that helped launch Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation at Harvard University. For the Foundation’s launch, Anne collaborated on several papers for the Foundation and Berkman Klein Center’s Kinder & Braver World Project. She also helped develop the foundation’s inaugural Youth Advisory Board.

Anne has collaborated with scholars on a number of academic journal articles, most recently “Leveraging Dignity Theory to Understand Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Children’s Rights,” led by researchers at Dublin’s Anti-Bullying Center. Books she has contributed to include Children’s Privacy and Safety (IAPP, 2022), Bullying: Perspectives, Practice and Insights (Council of Europe Publishing, 2017), Media and the Well-Being of Children and Adolescents (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives (Routledge, 2011). From 2017 to 2020, she worked with Google on its “Be Internet Awesome” safety and citizenship curriculum for elementary students worldwide. With tech journalist Larry Magid, she co-authored MySpace Unraveled (Peachpit Press, 2006), the first parents’ guide to teen social networking, and a number of guides for parents published by ConnectSafely, which she co-founded and co-directed with Magid for nearly a decade. In 2009, they co-authored and published “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth.”

Anne has spoken widely on Internet safety myth-busting and the literacies that afford true safety online as well as offline in a digital age. Between 2011 and ’14, she helped spearhead and facilitate workshops on digital-age citizenship for young people from many countries at Internet Governance Forums in Vilnius, Nairobi, Baku and Istanbul. She appeared on PBS Frontline’s “Growing Up Online” (2008); has been heard on public radio and nationally syndicated commercial radio in many states; and has been quoted in the New York Times, Business Week, the Associated Press, and many other publications.

In addition to her industry advisory work, she serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), the Advisory Board of the Young & Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University and the Global Advisory Board of youth-driven nonprofit Project Rockit in Melbourne. She has also worked closely with fellow youth-focused nonprofits the Family Online Safety Institute, Committee for Children, the International Bullying Prevention Association and the University of New Hampshire’s Family Research Lab and Prior to working in the Internet safety field, Anne worked on print, radio, TV, and Web editions of the Christian Science Monitor, having served as editor of its first Web site in the mid-’90s.A Massachusetts native, Anne holds B.A. and M.A. degrees and currently resides in Salt Lake City.