Digital Life of US Teens

Teens Text, Post, Snap, Game and View Video, and Their Favorite Device Is a Smartphone

As we move well beyond the days when Facebook dominated their usage, teens’ digital activity has become more complex. It’s not just a matter of Snapchat siphoning teens away from Facebook. A gaming phenomenon like Fortnite can compete with all social networks for teens’ attention. Meanwhile, widespread smartphone ownership among teens—something not seen a few years ago—gives an "anywhere, anytime" intensity to their digital activity.

  • How many teens own smartphones? We estimate that about eight in 10 in the 12-to-17 age bracket have their own smartphones. And it’s by far the device teens use most often. The app categories on their phones indicate a skew toward fun-and-games usage more than utilitarian functions.
  • How many teens are on social networks? About seven in 10 of those in the 12-to-17 age group use social networks. Though many still use Facebook—45.9% this year, by our estimate—it has been eclipsed by Instagram and Snapchat. Since those latter two platforms surged among teens, no other social network has established a mass-scale presence in that age group.
  • How many teens are digital video viewers? Our estimate pegs penetration this year at 93.4% among 12-to-17s. More than 80% use YouTube, with about two-thirds doing so daily, according to one survey.
  • How many teens are gamers? One survey shows about nine in 10 teen boys and three-quarters of teen girls own or have access to a gaming console. Fortnite is the most recent obsession. The rise of esports as a spectator pastime extends the presence of games in teens’ daily lives.
  • How aware are teens of cyberbullying? Even if not cyberbullied themselves, many teens see it happening, so it’s an aspect of digital life they’re highly aware of. Incidence of cyberbullying varies depending on gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
  • What are teens attitudes toward advertising? While, they do think it provides them with information, they find it more manipulative than informative. And some worry (though less than parents) about social sites using personal data to target them with ads.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report sorts through the complexities of US teens’ digital activity, examining aspects that include smartphone usage, social networking, digital video viewing, video gaming amid the Fortnite craze, cyberbullying and more.

KEY STAT: Among social networks, Snapchat has climbed atop the list of teens’ favorites—maybe in part because there aren’t a lot of parents on that platform.

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Table of Contents

  1. Using (and Using and Using) Their Smartphones
  2. Teens’ Social Usage Evolves (Sort Of)
  3. An Avid Audience for Digital Video
  4. Teens’ Mixed Feelings About Advertising
  1. Giving Their Own Twist to Video Gaming
  2. Key Takeaways
  3. eMarketer Interviews
  4. Read Next
  1. Sources
  2. Media Gallery

Charts in This Report

Interviewed for This Report

Joshua Dyck
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Associate Professor, Co-Director, Center for Public Opinion
Interviewed October 5, 2018
Heather Watson
Center for Generational Kinetics
Consulting and Behavioral Insights Lead
Interviewed October 3, 2018
Timothy Gerstmyer
Chief Digital and Development Officer
Interviewed October 4, 2018
Susan Jones
Senior Director, CPG Solutions
Interviewed October 5, 2018
Michael Mercier
Screen Education
Interviewed October 1, 2018
Michael Robb
Common Sense Media
Senior Director, Research
Interviewed October 1, 2018


Mark Dolliver


Caroline Cakebread
Junior Analyst
Oscar Orozco
Senior Forecasting Analyst
Jennifer Pearson
VP, Research
Monica Peart
Senior Director, Forecasting
Shelleen Shum
Director, Forecasting

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