Aug 13, 2022 - Technology

Internet usage skyrocketing among U.S. teens

Data: Pew Research Center; Note: The 2014/2015 survey did not ask about TikTok, which launched globally in 2018, or YouTube; Chart: Nicki Camberg/Axios

Nearly half of all U.S. teens (46%) say they use the internet "almost constantly," according to a new poll, around double the percentage (24%) that reported the same usage in 2014-15.

Why it matters: Today's teens don't balance their real-world lives with their virtual experiences, they blend them.

  • This is especially true for minority populations, who — according to a new Pew Research Center poll — are much more likely to say they are always online than white teens.

State of play: The internet has changed dramatically in the past few years, creating new opportunities and risks for teens.

  • Today's teens, who nearly all (97%) say they use the internet daily, are visual communicators, and have more tools at their disposal for self-expression.
  • Video apps like YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat are the primary networks used by teens now, compared to platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
  • Most of the main networks teens use to create and consume content have built in photo and video editing tools. Algorithms that prioritize virality over popularity make it easier for teens to discover new interests and ideas.

Yes, but: Constant connection also means that real-world problems — like bullying, harassment, and abuse — can be a bigger part of teens' lives.

  • Under pressure from parents and regulators, tech companies have begun to introduce parental controls and safety policies.
  • But teens are more aware now than ever about the risks of being constantly connected. More than half (53%) of teens who almost constantly use at least one social network say they are on social media too much.
  • Most teens (75%) say they visit YouTube daily, and around half say they use TikTok daily, Snapchat and Instagram at least daily.

The big picture: The pandemic forced most teens to double down on social relationships online. It also made aspects of their real-world experiences, like school and extra-curricular activities, available remotely.

  • While new efforts by tech platforms can help to curb some of the tactics used to exacerbate harm online, they can't protect teens from the same dynamics they would otherwise experience in the world.
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