Classroom Technology

Big Numbers of Teens Are on TikTok ‘Almost Constantly.’ What Should Teachers Do?

By Alyson Klein — August 10, 2022 3 min read
Image of a group of teens using their mobile devices.
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A new survey confirms what most middle and high school teachers already know: A significant chunk of teenagers spend an unhealthy amount of time watching YouTube or scrolling through TikTok.

More than one in six teenagers say they are on TikTokwhich is among the fastest-growing social media platforms—“almost constantly,” while nearly one in five say the same about YouTube, according to “Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022,” a report by the Pew Research Center released Aug. 10. The report was based on a survey of more than 1,300 teens ages 13 to 17, conducted last spring.

What’s more, over one in three teens surveyed—35 percent—say they’re on at least one of five platforms “almost constantly,” including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube.

Overall, more teens find themselves spending most of their time online these days than just a few years ago. Almost half of teenagers surveyed—46 percent—say they are online “almost constantly,” or roughly double the number who said the same when the Center conducted a similar survey in 2015.

Teens are clearly “highly digitally connected,” said Emily Vogels, a research associate at the Pew Research Center and a lead author of the report.

But, in focus groups conducted prior to the survey, she learned that teens are also “trying to find the best way to interact with these spaces. They’re thinking critically,” she explained, saying things like, “‘I’m only going to interact with these people because I know who they are.’”

Teens are mixed on whether or not it would be easy to ditch social media entirely. More than half of teens in the United States—54 percent—say it would be at least somewhat hard for them to quit social media, with almost one in five saying it would be “very hard,” according to the survey.

On the other hand, nearly half of teens say it would be at least somewhat easy for them to give up social media, with roughly a fifth reporting that would be very easy.

Teachers have a role to play in helping students understand the impact of social media on their behavior, attention spans, and even brain development, said Mary Beth Hertz, who will resume her previous role as a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber in Philadelphia this fall.

Hertz is a fan of tech in the classroom, but if she sees a student mindlessly scrolling through a phone, she’ll ask them, “‘Are you letting the technology win right now, or are you winning right now?’” She’s asked students to consider whether social media companies are being held accountable for the addictive behaviors their technologies are encouraging.

Teens are spending a lot less time on Facebook

YouTube is the most popular social media platform among teens, according to the survey, with 95 percent of respondents saying they’ve been on the video-sharing site at some point. About two thirds have used TikTok, while six in ten teenagers say the same about Instagram and Snapchat.

At the same time, teens’ Facebook engagement nosedived from nearly three quarters of teens saying they’ve used the platform at some point back in 2014-15 to just under a third this year.

That data serves as a reminder to educators that social media is “an ever-changing and evolving landscape,” Vogels said. “Where [teens are] flocking together to interact at any given point in time can very much shift and change.”

Black and Hispanic students are online more than their white peers

There are demographic differences when it comes to social media use. Teenage boys are more likely than girls to use YouTube, a video platform; Reddit, an online discussion forum, and Twitch, which focuses on videogame streaming. Girls, meanwhile, are more likely to hang out on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

Higher shares of Black and Hispanic teens report using Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and WhatsApp, compared with white teens. And a slightly larger share of teens from households making $30,000 to $74,999 annually—51 percent—use the internet almost constantly, compared with 43 percent of teens with family incomes of at least $75,000 a year.

The findings about race and family income are particularly important for teachers to keep in mind when they are thinking about how to address teen social media use, or even incorporate the platforms into their classrooms, said Supreet Mann, a research manager at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that examines the impact of technology on young people.

“We can’t put all of these kids into a bucket or think that by solving problems” related to social media use for “higher income or white kids that we’re going to be able to address the unique needs of minority or lower income kids,” said Mann, who noted Pew’s findings dovetail closely with those in a recent Common Sense Media report.

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