- 51% of U.S. teenagers spend at least four hours daily on social media
- Older teens, girls exceed the overall average in social media time
- Personality traits, parental restrictions are key factors in teens’ use
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Just over half of U.S. teenagers (51%) report spending at least four hours per day using a variety of social media apps such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter), a Gallup survey of more than 1,500 adolescents finds. This use amounts to 4.8 hours per day for the average U.S. teen across seven social media platforms tested in the survey.
Across age groups, the average time spent on social media ranges from as low as 4.1 hours per day for 13-year-olds to as high as 5.8 hours per day for 17-year-olds. Girls spend nearly an hour more on social media than boys (5.3 vs. 4.4 hours, respectively).
These data are from the Familial and Adolescent Health Survey conducted by Gallup June 26-July 17, 2023, using the Gallup Panel. The survey collected data from 6,643 parents and 1,591 adolescents who were the children of those parents. The survey asked about parental and child wellbeing, parenting practices, youth mental health, youth activities, quality of parent-child relationships, and other topics. The data were collected amid growing concerns from academic scholars that social media use is habit-forming, leads to overconsumption and may contribute to mental health problems. A recent report published by Gallup and the Institute for Family Studies contributes to this discussion.
YouTube, TikTok Top the List of Favorite Social Media Apps
The results show that YouTube and TikTok are by far the most popular social media apps among teens. Teens report spending an average of 1.9 hours per day on YouTube and 1.5 hours per day on TikTok, with boys spending more time on YouTube and girls spending more time on TikTok. Instagram is also popular with teens, attracting 0.9 hours of use per day.
Personality Traits, Parental Restrictions Key Factors in Teens’ Use
Further analysis of the findings shows that the personality traits and parenting experiences of adolescents are associated with their level of social media use.
Adolescents were asked measures of what psychologists call the “Big 5 personality traits.” One of the scales that is particularly relevant, conscientiousness, pertains to self-control and self-regulation. The least conscientious adolescents -- those scoring in the bottom quartile on the four items in the survey -- spend an average of 1.2 hours more on social media per day than those who are highly conscientious (in the top quartile of the scale). Of the remaining Big 5 personality traits, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and extroversion are all negatively correlated with social media use, but the associations are weaker compared with conscientiousness.
Likewise, on average, adolescents report 1.8 hours less time on social media apps if their parents strongly agree that they restrict screen time, compared with parents who strongly disagree.
Using the larger sample of parents with children aged 3 to 19, one in four parents (25%) strongly agree that they restrict screen time for their children, which does not vary between mothers and fathers. Parental education is weakly related to screen time restrictions, with graduate degree holders slightly more likely than parents with less education to strongly agree that they restrict screen time.
The political ideology of the parent is more closely related to restrictions. Forty-one percent of very conservative parents strongly agree that they restrict screen time, compared with 26% of conservative parents and 23% among moderate, liberal or very liberal parents. Very liberal parents are more than twice as likely as conservative or very conservative parents to strongly disagree that they restrict screen time.
Amid declining teen mental health, many scholars such as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt have carefully investigated the role of social media, given the explosion in time spent using such applications. Studies have pointed out how technology companies manipulate users into spending more time on the apps through their designs. There is hard evidence to support this view. In a 2022 article published in the journal American Economic Review, economists reported the results of an experiment with young adults designed to affect their social media use; they conclude that 31% of time spent on social media stems from what the researchers describe as “self-control problems.”
Consistent with the literature on “digital addiction,” these data show that teens who spend more time on social media rate themselves as being less conscientious more generally and live with parents who are less likely to restrict screen time. The second, upcoming part of this analysis reveals that these characteristics also predict poor mental health -- and seem to explain at least some of the observed relationship between social media use and mental health problems.
Readers can find a more comprehensive analysis from the report, How Parenting and Self-control Mediate the Link Between Social Media Use and Youth Mental Health, published with the Institute for Family Studies.
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