New Survey Reveals Student Social Media Use and Tech Trends for 2022

Laura Tierney
February 2, 2022

At The Social Institute, we believe most students are ahead of the curve when it comes to social media and technology. That’s why we huddle with students across the country to empower them to navigate their social world – including social media and technology – positively. This proactive, student-led approach not only benefits the students but also empowers faculty and strengthens school communities.

Knowing that student voice is at the center of our work, each school year we conduct a nationwide survey of students. We ask them to examine which social media apps they’re on and why, consider and share how they would navigate challenging social situations, give adults insight into their relationship with technology, and much more. 

This year we heard from more than 10,000 students across the country. The resulting report is a treasure-trove of data that families and educators can use to tailor social media education to their students, empowering them to make positive choices when using social media and technology. And as it turns out, this year’s findings may be more important than ever, since the pandemic has dramatically increased students’ reliance on technology for socializing, learning, and personal development.

Among the survey’s key findings: YouTube, SnapChat, and Instagram are the most popular apps for middle and high school students. TikTok is the preferred app for females and YouTube is the top preference for males. 

Other eye-opening statistics: 

  • 39% of sixth graders say that parents will sometimes or often be distracted on their devices when the students are trying to talk to them. 
  • 42% of eighth graders said they rarely or never pay attention to how companies are tracking information about them online. 
  • 21% of seventh graders say that they never or rarely see someone stand up for someone who is being bullied or talked badly in a group chat.

We also learned how common smartphones and social media are by grade level, with more than half of all students owning a smartphone or using social media by the 6th grade. 

The survey results also revealed key gender differences. The majority of girls (70 percent) say they feel pressure to post content that makes them look good compared to others, as opposed to 50 percent of boys. When it comes to using social media without actually posting content, 50 percent of boys do this, compared to 34 percent of girls. 

Giving students the opportunity to coach up, we asked students what they wish adults knew about social media. One of the more common responses was how social media platforms allow for connection and expressions. Additionally, students let us know that FOMO (fear of missing out) from not being on social media is worse than the negative comments that pop up on their feed from time to time. Adults fear that the hate students receive on social media might hurt their mental health. However, students let us know that they feel isolation from peers online is just as harmful. Some comments from students: 

  • “Social media is the primary way most teens communicate.”  
  • “Social media platforms give a lot of us the ability to express ourselves, and teaching us how to do so in a healthy manner is more beneficial than restricting access.” 
  • “It’s not all bad and can be used for good.” 
  • “No matter how much adults fight social media, it is our future.”  
  • “Talk to us about this topic in a way that doesn’t come across as repetitive, superior, or discriminating.” 

The pandemic escalated students’ reliance on technology to connect socially, thrive emotionally, and excel academically. Armed with this new-found survey knowledge from students themselves, families and educators can continue conversations to empower and equip students with the skills, knowledge, and values that embody their daily digital needs.

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.