More than a third of teens say they spend too much time on their phones, new study finds

Mar 11, 2024, 1:33 PM

As parents and lawmakers worry about the impact of smartphones and social media on young users, man...

As parents and lawmakers worry about the impact of smartphones and social media on young users, many teens acknowledge that they spend "too much" time on their devices. Mandatory Credit: Xavier Lorenzo/Moment RF/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

New York (CNN) — The always-online generation may be starting to unplug a bit.

Around 40% of teenagers say they have cut back on their time on social media, according to a report published Monday by the Pew Research Center. Nearly the same proportion of teens acknowledge that they spend “too much” time on their smartphones (38%) and social media (27%).

The findings come as concerns about the potential harm from social media to young users’ mental health and well-being continue to escalate among parents, schools and lawmakers. US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said last year that he believes 13, the minimum age to sign up for many platforms, is too young for children to be on social media. And several US states have attempted to pass legislation that aims to keep teens under the age of 16 off social media — although such laws have faced fierce legal opposition.

Monday’s Pew report indicates that some teens may be taking matters into their own hands by setting stricter boundaries around their tech use.

All but 5% of US teens now have access to a smartphone and a separate Pew study from December found that one third of teens say they use at least one of the five major social media platforms — YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook — “almost constantly.”

According to Monday’s report, teen girls, who some believe are especially at risk of impacts to their mental health and body image from social media, are more likely to say they spend too much time on their phones (44%) than teen boys (33%).

Still, the majority of teens of all ages (51%) believe they use their smartphones “about the right amount.”

“Teens who report spending too much time on social media and smartphones are especially likely to report cutting back on each,” the report states.

To conduct the report, Pew surveyed 1,453 U.S. teenagers ages 13 to 17 and their parents between September 26 and October 23, 2023.

The survey also questioned teens about the feelings they experience when they go without their phones: 72% of teen respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” feel happy when they set down the screens. However, some revealed mixed emotions, as 44% of the teens surveyed said they feel anxious when they’re without their phones.

Still, the report notes that “a minority of teens – ranging from 7% to 32% – say they often feel” anxious, upset or lonely when they’re “phone-less.”

And more than two thirds of teens say they believe the benefits of smartphones outweigh the harms for people their age. “More teens believe smartphones make it easier, rather than harder, to be creative, pursue hobbies and do well in school,” the report states.

A larger portion of the teen respondents (42%), however, said they believed smartphones make it harder to learn good social skills.

The American Psychological Association last year recommended that teens undergo training before they start using social media, saying the tools are “neither inherently harmful nor beneficial” for young people but that they should have instruction in social media literacy and psychological development to minimize potential harms.

Many parents also say they are keeping tabs on their teens’ smartphone and social media use, with half of parent respondents reporting they’ve looked through their children’s phones, particularly parents of younger teens. (And in most cases, their children seem to know it: 43% of teen respondents said their parents had looked through their phones.)

Parents these days have more tools than ever to monitor their kids’ online experience. Many social media platforms have responded to criticisms over youth safety by launching so-called family centers and other features to allow parents to oversee how their teens are using the platforms, while maintaining some privacy for their kids.

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More than a third of teens say they spend too much time on their phones, new study finds