April 9, 2015

Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015


Much has changed in recent years when it comes to teenagers and their use of technology. When the Center last surveyed teens, Snapchat did not exist, and Instagram, Tumblr, Vine and a host of other platforms were barely out of their infancy.

As the technology environment has changed, we have also modified our basic methods for surveying teens ages 13 to 17. While both our current and previous methods are probability-based, nationally representative samples of American teens, the current survey was administered online, while our previous work involved surveying teens by phone. A great deal of previous research has found that the mode of interview — telephone vs. online self-administration— can affect the results. The magnitude and direction of these effects are difficult to predict, though for most kinds of questions, the fundamental conclusions one would draw from the data will be similar regardless of mode. This means we will not compare specific percentages from previous research with results from the current survey and we will therefore not include trend data in this report. But we believe that the broad contours and patterns evident in this web-based survey are comparable to those seen in previous telephone surveys.

This report covers the current landscape of teens’ technology use. The survey shows gaps in access to technology which fall along socio-economic, racial and ethnic lines — especially access to desktop and laptop computers, and smartphones. The survey also reveals that a large number of teens are using sites and apps like Instagram and Snapchat. However, adolescents continue to use Facebook, and it is the site that the largest share of teens say they use most often. Facebook is more likely to be cited as the most used site by lower income youth than by higher income teens, while Snapchat is more likely to be a frequently used site for more well-to-do teens.

The survey finds a significant gender gap among teens in online and gaming behaviors. Girls are outpacing boys in their use of text messaging, and in their use of visual social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, online pinboards (like Pinterest and Polyvore), as well as Tumblr and Vine, while boys dominate in the console access and video game playing sphere.

Among Hispanic and African-American youth, there is somewhat less access to desktops, compared with white teens. At the same time, African-American youth have greater access to smartphones than their Hispanic or white counterparts. Minority youth are much more likely to adopt text messaging apps on their phones than their white counterparts. And while Hispanic youth are equally as likely as white teens to use most of the social media platforms that were queried in the survey, Hispanic teens are more likely to report using Google+ than white youth. African-American teens are also substantially more likely than white or Hispanic youth to report playing video games.

Data for this report was collected for Pew Research Center. The survey was administered online by the GfK Group using its KnowledgePanel, in English and Spanish, to a nationally representative sample of 1060 teens ages 13 to 17 and a parent or guardian from September 25 to October 9, 2014 and February 10 to March 16, 2015. In the fall data collection, 1016 parent-teen pairs were interviewed. The survey was re-opened in the spring and 44 pairs were added to the sample. For more on the methods for this study, please visit the Methods section at the back of this report.