Insights from Nearly 23,000 Students Reveal How they are Using Social Media in 2023

February 3, 2023

For Generation Z, who spend nearly as much time consuming media as they do attending classes at school, social media is simply being social. Social apps, texting, and gaming are where students hang out with friends, build relationships, stay informed, find inspiration, explore interests, follow role models, make purchases, and connect across borders and cultures. 

To empower educators and families to keep up with the ever-evolving ways students use social media, we surveyed nearly 23,000 (22,952 to be exact) students at U.S. public schools and independent schools from August first through December first of 2022. We compiled the results into a report that gives us insights into how students are using social media and tech to fuel their health, happiness, and success. 

We continuously hear from students that “social media” doesn’t only apply to mainstream apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Any student using their own or a family device is being“social.” According to a 2022 report by Common Sense Media, media use increased by 17% since the pandemic began – jumping to 5 hours and 33 minutes from 4:44 among tweens, and up to 8 hours and 39 minutes from 7:22 among teens. Social media use is also increasing for 8- to12-year-olds, who are technically younger than most platforms’ minimum age requirement of 13 years old. 

So where are students spending their time socializing? YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram continue to rank at the top among high schoolers while the majority of middle schoolers are using YouTube, FaceTime, and Texting to connect with their friends. 

You might be asking,“what about TikTok?!” For both age groups, TikTok still ranks in the top ten, just not as high as the other apps. 

In 2022, students also flocked to new up-and-coming apps. BeReal, which was initially released in 2020, saw a huge spike in popularity with 38% of high school students ranking it in their top 10 apps they use every week. With no filters, no influencers, and no ads, this app inspires students to be their most authentic selves. 

Gas, which was released in 2022, is another rising star among students. Named after the term “to gas someone up” which means complimenting or hyping a friend, this app allows students to vote for their classmates within their contact lists on positive, pre-generated poll questions.  

Apps and devices are developed, released, or updated all year long. So we asked students how they are navigating social situations while using tech and social media. They told us that:

  • 59% of 4th graders would spend more time with family if they took a break from YouTube
  • 5th graders rank people saying hurtful things about someone behind their back as the type of cyberbullying they see the most.
  • 8th graders consider their current location as the top private and personal tracked behavior that apps could use to show them targeted ads.

This report also revealed that students are getting smartphones and social media accounts at younger ages in the past year. According to the findings, the majority of students reported getting their first smartphone at 10 years old. This is two years younger than what students reported last year. Students are also getting on social media at younger ages. The majority of students reported creating their first social media account at 12 years old, which is one year younger than last year’s findings and one year below the age requirement for creating accounts on many social media apps.

Just as driver’s ed creates safe drivers, a proactive and positive approach to teaching students how to use social media will make it a safer and more positive place for our students. This proactive and positive approach relies on understanding that students aren’t just being social on social media either. To better understand students, we encourage them to use their voices and listen to them. In our report, a few highlights of what students told us include: 

  • “I use social media to connect with people and keep up with the news.”
  • “Social media encourages us young people to follow our dreams.”
  • “Social media is an amazing way to spread information about current events.”
  • “Social media can be a powerful learning and networking tool.”
  • “Social media allows people who normally may not have a platform to express themselves.”

Students are using social media to learn about the news, advocate for causes they care about, and pursue their passions. In fact, students ranked social media as their #1 go-to source to find information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We also learned that in 2022, TikTok overtook Google for the most popular web domain as 40% of Gen Z turn to TikTok or Instagram to perform searches before turning to Google. And the advancements in technology, as we’ve seen with ChatGPT, the free-to-use artificial intelligence chatbot, provide students with answers in “a conversational way.”

It’s no secret that social media is here to stay. It’s also no secret that its constant changes can be daunting. But by gaining insights into where students are hanging out on social media and how they are using it, we are better equipped to empower them to navigate social media and tech in positive and high-character ways.

Written by

Laura Tierney

Laura Tierney is the Founder and CEO of The Social Institute, empowering students and their role models to navigate social-emotional health, social media, and technology positively. A social media expert, educator, and technologist, she created the pioneering, best-in-class #WinAtSocial Program by combining her standout sports leadership experience with her career managing social media for world-class brands. As a digital native herself, she is bridging the gap between adults and students as the nation’s leader in positive social media education that students respect.