Surveys Shed Light on Teen and Parent Feelings about Social Media

It’s relatively rare to get new research on teens, parents and social media but three surveys dropped this week.

Nov 17, 2022

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by Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News

It’s relatively rare to get new research on teens, parents and social media but three surveys dropped this week. One was from Pew Research, another was from the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and the third was from TikTok in partnership with, where I serve as CEO. Pew is a highly respected survey organization and both the FOSI and TikTok/ConnectSafely surveys were conducted by reputable research firms.

Pew study

The Pew study found that 80% of teens felt that social media provides them with a space for connection, creativity and support, though only a third said “a lot” while just under half said “a little.” About a third (32%) felt the services had a positive impact, with most (59%) saying neither negative nor positive and only 9% saying mostly negative. While that’s far from an enthusiastic endorsement of social media, it’s an indicator that — for the most part — teens feel pretty good about their social media experiences. It’s also reassuring to see that more than two-thirds (67%) say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who can support them through tough times.

But teens did express concerns. A significant minority of teens (38%) say they feel overwhelmed by all the drama they see on social media, 31% said the platforms have made them feel like their friends are leaving them out of things and 29% have felt pressure to post content that will get lots of likes or comments with 23% saying the platforms make them feel worse about their own life.

Pew Research Center

Clearly, teens and their parents are far from monolithic on their views of social media, and while I’m happy that most teens are doing alright, I am very concerned about those who may be having bad online experiences. Everyone involved — industry, the government, parents and teens themselves and even nonprofits like my own organization, need to increase their efforts to reduce the potential negative impact of social media

TikTok/ConnectSafely parent survey

The survey conducted by TikTok in partnership with ConnectSafely polled parents on what they do to help their teens stay safe online on all platforms — not just TikTok. It was conducted by YouGov, an international research data and analytics company, which interviewed 2,000 US parents of 13 to 17-year-olds.

I was pleased to see that 82% of parents think it’s important to spend time using the same platforms as their children to better understand or facilitate conversations. Reading about a platform in the press or listening to pundits isn’t the same as experiencing how the platform works. I would encourage parents to try the platforms their kids enjoy and ask them for their advice but to avoid stalking them on platforms and, in general, refrain from commenting on their kids’ or kids’ friends’ posts or videos.

Fully 61% of parents say they talk with their teens about online safety after their teens tell them they’ve encountered a problem, while 58% initiated such conversations after seeing a negative change in the mood or habits of their teens. Most parents (94%) reported feeling confident about speaking with their teens about their social media use.

Body image is a major concern among both parents and teens, with 68% of moms and 50% of dads saying they are very confident talking to their teens about the issue. Most of the conversations are directed to their daughters (45%) versus 28% to sons. I’m not surprised, but I’d like to see this change. As a male who had body images as a child (and to some extent as an adult), I think we need to pay more attention to how boys are feeling about their bodies and how all youth are responding to the “pressure to be perfect,” often based on comparing themselves to people they see online.

Overall, I found it reassuring to learn that 78% of parents recognize they have the biggest responsibility to talk to their teens about online safety, but there is still work to be done to help and encourage even more parents to gain the confidence they need to speak with their teens about social media use.

FOSI survey

The FOSI survey, which was conducted by Kantar, examined awareness, attitudes and behaviors of both parents and teens regarding age assurance, “a process that encompasses the methods and solutions used to verify or estimate a user’s age on online services and apps.” It’s an important topic because most social media sites have a minimum age for accounts (typically 13) and also have “age-gating” where certain experiences or looser privacy settings are available to older teens but not younger ones. Nearly all services now rely on users stating their date of birth when setting up an account without having the ability to immediately verify if that date is accurate.

But before any adults start regulating teens’ online lives, they need to consider the needs, desires and rights of youth themselves, with 65% of US teens saying, “I wish parents took my opinion into account on what/how they manage technology use.”

The FOSI survey also examined various ways to determine age. Age assurance has been elusive, but there are promising new technologies, including biometric verifications, that appear to be reasonably accurate. Both parents (72%) and teens (73%) agree that they would likely use such methods in the future.

The FOSI survey looked at parent and teen perceptions of perceived risks with some interesting differences between the two groups. Parents are slightly more concerned (45%) than teens (41%) about online strangers and bad actors, while teens (42%) worry more than parents (36%) about information being hacked or stolen. Not surprisingly, parents (32%) are more concerned than teens (27%) about too much screen time, while they are nearly equally concerned about bullying, tracking and targeted ads.

What it all means

Though the three surveys examined somewhat different issues, they all lead to a similar conclusion. Most teens are having mostly positive experiences online, but nearly every teen has some issues that concern them, and a significant minority of teens have dealt with some pretty serious issues. Most parents are generally comfortable with their ability to help their teens navigate the online world, but there are some who weren’t, and even confident parents have some gaps in what they know and feel they can do.

These findings are similar to other data about risks, including crime, health, accidents and so much more. While there is no “epidemic” of horrible things happening, there are both annoyances and risks with potentially serious impact for some that must be addressed not just by parents and teens but by technology companies and governments.

This post first appeared in the Mercury News.

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