Shining Light on Teen Usage of Social Media

The Girl Scout Research Institute and the Pew Research Center hosted a call recently on Trends in Teen Communication and Social Media Use: What’s Really Going On?, with speakers Kimberlee Salmond of Girls Scouts Research Institute and Kristen Purcell, Ph.D., of Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Both speakers emphasized the importance of teaching teens and young adults about safe online behavior and promoting positive self image.

According to the Pew Research Center’s latest research, 75% of teens live in homes with high-speed internet. However, there is a clear digital divide. Teens with white parents, college-educated parents, and/or living in households with an annual income above $50,000 are more likely to have access to high-speed internet. Cell phones, therefore, are becoming a new low-cost alternative for accessing social media platforms, especially among non-white and low-income teens. Pew found that one in three teens use cell phones to go online.

Why does this matter? Clearly, teens are online and actively using social networking. The Girl Scouts’ research found that girls ages 14-17 post an average of 8 daily tweets. They also found that girls tend to downplay positive characteristics of themselves online. These characteristics include intelligence and efforts to be a good influence. As advocates working with teens, or hoping to work with teens, it is important to understand where they are at online and how they are using social networking sites. There is both good news (52% of girls surveyed by the Girl Scouts have gotten involved with causes they care about through social networking sites) and bad news (62% of the girls reported negative experiences on these sites such as gossip and bullying). Clearly, the social interactions (positive and negative) that many pre-cyberspace teens dealt with are being replicated online. Of course, there are the additional challenges teens are facing today such as safety and control in cyberspace and the possible future consequences of what they post online.

We encourage anyone concerned with teen usage of social networking sites to read the research produced by Pew and Girls Scouts.

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