LSE - Small Logo
LSE - Small Logo

Sonia Livingstone

December 14th, 2018

Value the creative and social-emotional upsides of social media suggests new survey from Common Sense Media

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Sonia Livingstone

December 14th, 2018

Value the creative and social-emotional upsides of social media suggests new survey from Common Sense Media

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

A new report on US teens reveals that social media use can improve social-emotional well-being and support creativity but that vulnerable teenagers may rely more on such platforms. African-Americans also report more harm online, and low-income youth use social media in different ways. Mizuko (Mimi) Ito is a cultural anthropologist, studying youth new media practices in the US and Japan. She oversees research activities of the Digital Media and Learning Hub and is developing a research area focused on interest-driven learning. She is a Professor in Residence at the UC Humanities Research Institute, and has appointments at the Department of Informatics and the Department of Anthropology, and is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at UC Irvine. [Cover image credit: Pixabay on Pexels.jpg] 

In September, Common Sense Media released its report, Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their ExperiencesThe report describes research conducted by veteran digital youth researcher Victoria Rideout and Common Sense Media’s Senior Director of Research, Michael Robb.

“This survey is the organisation’s second report tracking social media use among American teenagers – the original report of the same name was published in 2012 – and offers a revealing look at teens’ social media use over the last six years and how much it has come to dominate their lives.”

Here are a few highlights for the Connected Learning Alliance.

Digital youth

Social media supports meaningful conversations and creative expression

The big finding is the big rise in social media use in tandem with smartphone adoption. 73% of teens report daily engagement, up from 51% in 2012. Social media goes beyond mundane day-to-day updates for a significant minority of teens. 33% say that they have “meaningful conversations” and 27% say that social media are “extremely” or “very” important avenues for creative expression. Importantly, the most social and emotionally vulnerable teens are more likely (37%) to value creative expression through social media.

Digital equity

Low income teens have unique patterns of usage

A mere 3% difference in smartphone ownership divides higher and lower income teens. Before you conclude that the digital device divide has evaporated, consider these numbers. Lower income teens prefer Facebook to Snapchat, unlike higher income peers where Snapchat is #1. African American and Hispanic teens also lean a bit more towards Facebook than their white peers. We’ve noted that when a peer group includes teens who don’t have access to unlimited data on a smartphone, Facebook and texting are the common denominators. This digital participation gap seems to be persisting.

Digital citizenship

Social media mirrors offline happenings

74% of teens say that social media helps them be more aware of current events, which hasn’t changed much since the 2012 survey. On the question of hate speech online, there was an uptick in exposure to across the board, but particularly for racist content, with African-American teens most likely to report exposure.

Digital wellness

Social media can support teen well-being

One of most striking findings is that most teens say social media helps support social-emotional well-being, boosting confidence, and alleviating anxiety, loneliness, and depression. These positives are reported at higher rates than in 2012, so seems to rise with growing social media use. In both 2018 and 2012, teens who are high social media users look pretty much the same as teens who are low social media users in terms of overall social-emotional well-being. One group does stand out. Teens with the lowest social-emotional well-being are much more likely to rely on social media for connection and validation from their peers.

Digital parenting

Just as distracted as their kids

We need to remember that it’s not just teens who have become avid users of social media, but older folks as well. When Common Sense surveyed parents, they found their level of media engagement was similar to their kids. A quarter of teens surveyed said their parents are addicted to digital devices, and a third wish their parents were less occupied with their screens.

Connected learning takeaways

Value the creative and social-emotional upsides, especially for vulnerable teens

The survey suggests that connected educators and parents should value and leverage the creative, relational, and emotional upsides of social media while attending to pervasive problems such as distraction and hate speech.

In particular, we should pay particular attention to the experiences of vulnerable and marginalised teens to maximise the positives and minimise the negatives.

  • Teens who are socially vulnerable have the most to gain from meaningful online relationships and creative expression. Targeted programming and outreach to these kids could have outsized impact.
  • Minority youth are encountering racist content at unacceptably higher rates. More needs to be done to combat this.
  • We need to better understand how low-income youth are experiencing social media in ways different from their wealthier peers. Programs and tools should be tailored to their unique needs and practices so they can fully reap the benefits of social media.

See the infographic, and download the full report from Common Sense.


This text was originally published on the Connected Learning Alliance website and has been re-posted with permission.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the LSE Parenting for a Digital Future blog nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

About the author

Sonia Livingstone

Sonia Livingstone OBE is Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. Taking a comparative, critical and contextual approach, her research examines how the changing conditions of mediation are reshaping everyday practices and possibilities for action. She has published twenty books on media audiences, media literacy and media regulation, with a particular focus on the opportunities and risks of digital media use in the everyday lives of children and young people. Her most recent book is The class: living and learning in the digital age (2016, with Julian Sefton-Green). Sonia has advised the UK government, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe and other national and international organisations on children’s rights, risks and safety in the digital age. She was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014 'for services to children and child internet safety.' Sonia Livingstone is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, the British Psychological Society, the Royal Society for the Arts and fellow and past President of the International Communication Association (ICA). She has been visiting professor at the Universities of Bergen, Copenhagen, Harvard, Illinois, Milan, Oslo, Paris II, Pennsylvania, and Stockholm, and is on the editorial board of several leading journals. She is on the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, is a member of the Internet Watch Foundation’s Ethics Committee, is an Expert Advisor to the Council of Europe, and was recently Special Advisor to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Communications, among other roles. Sonia has received many awards and honours, including honorary doctorates from the University of Montreal, Université Panthéon Assas, the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the University of the Basque Country, and the University of Copenhagen. She is currently leading the project Global Kids Online (with UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti and EU Kids Online), researching children’s understanding of digital privacy (funded by the Information Commissioner’s Office) and writing a book with Alicia Blum-Ross called ‘Parenting for a Digital Future (Oxford University Press), among other research, impact and writing projects. Sonia is chairing LSE’s Truth, Trust and Technology Commission in 2017-2018, and participates in the European Commission-funded research networks, DigiLitEY and MakEY. She runs a blog called and contributes to the LSE’s Media Policy Project blog. Follow her on Twitter @Livingstone_S

Posted In: Research shows...