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This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

By Larry Magid
A pair of recent reports sheds light on how teens are using social media, including the revelation that not all teens are glued to social media 24/7. Many do take breaks.
You can find links to both reports from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at
The survey of 13 to17 year-olds from throughout the U.S. utilized NORC’s Amerispeak panel and, according to the well-respected researchers behind the survey, there is a 95 percent  certainty that it is representative of the American teenage population.

 The first poll found that 76 percent of American teens age 13-17 use Instagram with nearly the same number on Snapchat.  Two thirds use Facebook, just slightly lower than the 71 percent of teens who used that site in 2015. Less than half use Twitter and fewer than 30 percent use Tumblr, Twitch or LinkedIn.

The numbers were higher for black teens with 81 percent on Snapchat, compared to 71 percent of white teens. Forty percent of black teens said they used Snapchat “almost constantly” with 33 percent saying that about their use of Instagram.
Black teens are more likely to use the Linked-In professional network than white teens (17 percent vs. 7 percent). Black teens are also more likely to use messaging apps at the rate of 18 percent to 6 percent compared to white teens. Nearly a third use Skype or Facetime, compared to 12 percent of white teens. Twenty six percent of black teens use Kik compared to 11 percent of white teens.
The survey also found that teens from families earning less than $50,000 a year were more likely to use mobile messaging apps like Kik, Facebook Messenger, Line and Viber than those from wealthier families.
The researchers didn’t offer a direct explanation for the discrepancies along racial and income lines but did point out that lower income teens are more likely to rely solely on handheld devices like smartphones and tablets, which support these messaging apps. The survey found that 89 percent of teens have or have access to a smartphone, up from 73 percent in 2015.
AP/NORC’s newest report, released on Thursday, shed light on why teens love social media.  Seventy eight percent say it makes them feel closer to friends with 40 percent saying it makes them feel closer to family. Nearly half say that social media makes them better informed.

Compelled to show their best side
For better or worse, 15 percent say that social media makes them feel like they must show “the best version of themselves.” On the clearly negative side, 10 percent say it makes them feel “overloaded with information.”  But there is a gender-gap. Boys are twice as likely to feel overloaded with information than girls, while girls are much more (21 percent vs 9 percent) to say that it makes them feel like they always have to present the best version of themselves.
Taking breaks

What most interested me about this report is that 58 percent of teens say they take breaks from social media while another 23 percent say they want to take a break. And these aren’t necessarily short breaks. Half the teens said they stayed away from social media for a week or longer, which is more than I can say.  Again, there is a gender difference, with 36 percent of boys saying they’ve taken a break for two weeks or longer compared to 22 percent of girls. Lower income teens are also more likely to take breaks
Overall, teens who took breaks reported that they got more things done, with many saying they felt relieved and were glad they took the break. About 60 percent of teens who took a break did so three or more times.
But it’s important to note that while 65 percent of teens took breaks voluntarily, many did so because their parents took away their device while others did so because their phone was lost, broken or stolen or because they were away at camp or vacation.
But, just as with adults, there are some who felt horrible during these breaks, worrying that they were missing out on things or less connected to news and information.
Together, these reports paint a relatively positive picture of the way American teens use social media. Yes, they use it and use it a lot but many teens can step away from their social media use – at least for a time – to focus on other things.
Still, there are plenty of teens who have trouble putting down their phones and tablets. The same is true with many adults I know, including yours truly.

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