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Social Media and Youth

Findings and Recommendations from an Investigation into Teen Experiences

By better understanding typical teen experiences online, this project aimed to elevate what teens see as supportive in their online interactions and what they wish would change. The findings also raised many new questions and opportunities for further research.  

"I have heavily curated my experience to see only the content I want to see. I feel powerless, a lack of control when it comes to targeted ads."

(18F, fg)

We set out to ask these questions:

  • What are situations that are positive on social media? What are the situations that are negative on social media?

  • How would young people reimagine social media? What advice would they give to someone else? 

  • How do teens use or curate social media to manage their moods? 

  • When and how do teens take a break from social media?

  • How in control do teens feel about what they see?

  • Where do teens get information about how to use social media?

Hopelab researchers engaged youth on two online platforms: Dscout and Facebook, to capture “in-context” and focus group data. The findings revealed some important considerations and disturbing online realities that parents, platforms and providers ought to be aware of, explore further and act upon.

"I saw an actual murder. It was terrifying, I reported and tried to forget what it looked like… Yeah, the police got involved the day after. Instagram took a while to remove it, which is the worst part…"

(15F, fg)

Key Findings:

  • Youth encounter ubiquitous graphic content (murders, shootings, sex, violence toward people and animals) but see no clear avenue on how to manage its impacts. And youth do not report connecting with support systems after seeing graphic content.

  • Youth engage in explicit strategies for managing negative experiences on social media (i.e. taking breaks, curating what/who they follow).

  • Young people are intentionally and unintentionally using social media to make them “feel good”.

  • Young people want positivity and want to contribute to something cool – social media is an accessible outlet for creativity.

  • Ads generate a feeling of lack of control for teens.

  • Some degree of parent/family involvement with social media is common.

"If I am upset over something, and I see a funny post it will make me laugh and probably make me feel a little better. I like to use social media as a distraction when I’m upset."

(18F, fg)

Recommendations for Future Research and Action:

  • Identify opportunities for families to engage with teens around social media – as a means of connection and to offer guidance in handling difficult interactions and content.

  • Identify strategies to limit and manage exposure to graphic content.

  • Explore the impact of frequent, ubiquitous exposure to graphic content on children and teens.

  • Identify strategies to control, limit and manage teens’ exposure to ads.

  • Develop strategies for best-case bystander behavior for when someone is being mistreated on social mediaYoung people are motivated to stand up, but unclear on what is actually effective.

  • Support children and teens to develop social media literacy – for example: to set and stick to goals for social media use (i.e. content creation, connection with peers), to curate content and control settings and to be aware of scams, predators, and time-drains.

  • Explore how pre-existing emotional states inform content interpretation and experiences online; and empower young people with effective mood management strategies.

  • Explore further strategies to help teens leverage using social media to create positive content and make social media a creative outlet.

Interested in collaborating on any of these recommendations or learning about the future direction of this work? 

Contact the Program Director: 
Vicki Harrison