Teens feel good about social media, but the data tells another story

The news: Despite the pandemic, the growth of TikTok, and the proliferation of smart devices, today’s young adults say they are spending less time on social media than their counterparts of five years ago, per a new CivicScience survey.

  • In 2017, 40% of respondents ages 18 to 24 said they spend less than two hours a day on social media. In 2022, that number jumped to 51%.

By the numbers: The self-reported responses confirm changes like a shift away from Facebook but also conflict with other data points about teen social media usage.

  • Fifty-six percent of respondents said they used Facebook daily in 2017, compared with just 29% in 2022. Daily use of Instagram has fared better among both age groups, ringing in at 43% in 2017 and 41% in 2022.
  • Today’s young consumers also seem to feel better about their dependence on mobile devices. In 2017, 71% of respondents said they felt addicted to their devices, compared with 56% last year.

The kids are not all right: While the CivicScience data shows that younger demographic groups think they’re spending less time on social media and feel better about its mental health impact, other data points suggest otherwise.

  • In a December poll of Gen Z consumers from Morning Consult, 38% said they spend more than four hours per day on social media. Platforms like TikTok, aware of concern about their addictive feeds and short-video format, have introduced features specifically designed to limit time spent.
  • Social media’s prominent role in culture may lead young people to think less of it, but studies from third-party groups and even social platforms themselves draw a correlation between social media use and deteriorating mental health.
  • 83% of educators who were approached by students about mental health concerns said that social media usage had a negative impact on teens, ranking it in the top four causes alongside bullying and family stressors, per a CVS and Morning Consult survey. In 2021, a leaked report from Instagram revealed internal data correlating usage to negative mental health effects in teen girls.

Our take: Gen Z’s relatively positive perception of social media platforms is a sign of their prominent place in culture. But even if they feel OK about it, data shows social media can have negative mental health impacts.

  • Regulators have been gearing up to attempt to curb social media’s influence, citing teen safety and mental health as a prominent factor at every turn.

"Behind the Numbers" Podcast