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Top 10 myths and truths about teen social media use

Revealed by The Female Lead's Disrupt Your Feed Research

The Female Lead & Dr Terri Apter have been collecting data for over five years on how teen girls interact with social media and the ways it can have both a positive and negative impact on their well-being and self-esteem.

Our Disrupt Your Feed (DYF) study really highlights both the threats and opportunities the complex world of social media presents. For parents, educators and policymakers we have identified some social media myths that don’t really stand up to scrutiny and some truths that are helping us . . .

. . . to shape the roadmap for a positive way forward.

The Myths

  1. Teens don’t understand the impact social media is having on them’ - in fact, teen awareness of social media’s impact on them has become more acute through the years of our DYF study. Today’s teens are incredibly knowledgeable about how the algorithm is designed to capture their attention and the way the tech companies can profit from their eyeballs

  2. ‘Social media is a major inhibitor to teenagers developing friendships and their social lives’ - one of the most universally reported positives of social media from teens was the ability to connect with friends and to expand their friendship circles outside of school and keep in regular touch with people they would otherwise have limited opportunity to connect with

  3. ‘Social media encourages teens to live in a bubble’ - in actual fact, teens spoke about the global issues social media had opened their eyes to - they saw social media as their window on the world and a source of both news and alternative perspectives to the ones they had grown up around

  4. Using social media is largely introspective and isolating’ - in fact, our study found that one of the most prevalent activities on social media amongst all our groups of students, was to find funny videos and memes and share them with friends - DYF participants reported that this meant social media was often a great catalyst for laughter and shared joy in their social circles

  5. ‘Social media can prevent teens from living rich offline lives’ - on the contrary, DYF uncovered multiple examples of teens acting on passions they had discovered online and taking those newfound interests into their offline world, whether that was environmental activism or a passion for crochet

The Truths

We also learnt that:

  1. Input was appreciated - Girls welcomed positive input and ideas of how to best manage their social media lives - it’s something they’re already working on for themselves

  2. Social media maturity grew rapidly with age - As with many aspects of adult life, teens tend to acquire healthier social media habits as they progress through their teen years. They are able to reflect on their younger selves and see what habits serve them best and which have a negative impact and develop their skills accordingly

  3. Teens understand the power of social media image manipulation - The self-esteem impact of airbrushed lives and bodies has decreased over time, as teens in our 2022/23 study had far deeper recognition and understanding of the potential to manipulate a social media image than our original 2018 cohort. 2023/23 participants were a lot less likely to compare themselves negatively to air-brushed images of celebrities and influencers

  4. Relatable role models resonated most - Role models who represented the next step along a journey rather than those that had already ‘made it’ were often reported as the greatest inspiration as teens were better able to relate to the effort being applied and the journey to reach a goal that seemed more attainable.

  5. Small interventions can make a huge and lasting impact - we discovered that adding a small number of positive role models to your feed can make a large and lasting difference to your social media experience and the space it occupies in your life - an impact that lasts well into adulthood

To read our Disrupt Your Feed 2023 report and recommendations in full, please click here:


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