How age and gender can impact social media usage

Social media has become a part of almost everyone’s daily routine, but how it’s used can differ based on age, race and ethnicity, household income and especially gender.

Common Sense Media, a San Francisco based nonprofit that focuses on promoting digital well-being for children, has researched social media use extensively. In a study titled “Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences” done in September of 2018, they looked at the overview of social media use in 13- to 17-year-olds. This is the second wave of this study, as the first was done in 2012, and statistics have changed since then—in 2012, 34 percent of teens used social media more than once a day, but in 2018 that number rose to 70 percent.

Michael Robb, director of research for Common Sense, said they expected these numbers to rise because of how many more children and teens now have smartphones and devices. He said although everyone kind of assumes how many more children use their devices today, it is still noteworthy to see how rapidly things have changed.

The researchers also found significant demographic differences in the way teens use social media, as older teenagers are more likely to spend more time on social media. The data shows that 82 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds use social media daily, while 59 percent of 13- to 14-year-olds do so. Those who have a higher household income also tend to use social media more: 76 percent of higher-income youth use it daily, as opposed to the 68 percent middle-income youth that do.

Additionally, women tend to use social media more than men. The report found that 81 percent of female teenagers use social media daily, compared to 66 percent of teenage males.

Robb said the key difference between boys’ and girls’ media use is girls, on average, tend to use social media more than boys, where boys play video games more often. “The research about how it affects them is a little all over the map. I think it has less to do with time and more to do with what kind of experiences that they’re having on social media,” he said.

In addition, social media has grown so much in recent years that is has become a career path. When social media becomes a job it’s much easier for it to be overwhelming, creating a need to set healthy boundaries.

Becca Booker is the owner and CEO of Homemade Social, a boutique social media marketing agency in Scottsdale that specializes in lifestyle brands. The company advocates for a healthier relationship with social media by educating users. Booker encourages them to unfollow accounts that don’t serve them a good purpose, and following other accounts intentionally, which can be anything they find valuable.

Booker sets boundaries for herself on social media so that it doesn’t become too much. She limits herself to using four hours of social media per day. “That sounds like it’s a lot, but when it’s your job that can add up pretty quickly,” Booker said.

Instagram recently announced they are rolling out a new feature that hides likes on posts, meaning that the user can see the number of likes their own posts receive, but not on the posts of others.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the comparison game. Everyone is posting about their biggest win or something great that just happened, and it makes sense because those are usually the posts that get the most likes,” she said. Booker thinks that this new Instagram feature is going to be a gamechanger in users’ mental health to try to break that comparison game — especially in teenage girls who tend to be most affected.

Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president and director of ASU Counseling Services, echoes the implications of this comparison game. He said that ASU Counseling works hard to stay up to date on trends in college students, and one trend shows that digital and social media has an effect on students that can be positive or negative.

“People can get stuck in a comparison cycle, or they have difficulty putting away the device to focus on other things,” Krasnow said. “What we’re looking for is not to take a position about whether it’s good or bad, but we always look at whether somebody’s use of social media or any digital media is interfering in their life. If it’s not interfering it’s not a problem.” 

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