In a world where 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone, social media has become a dominant part of most social lives. In fact, nearly half of those kids admit to checking their phones constantly throughout their waking hours, anxious to stay current with the ever-changing feeds of their peers.
But believe it or not, there are some teens who’ve decided to quit the often “perfectly”-manicured worlds of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat in favor of something much more novel: face-to-face interaction with their peers.
Isabelle, and 18-year-old student in England, is one of them.
“Everyone switched off from conversation,” she told the Guardian. “It became: ‘Can I have your number to text you?’ Something got lost in terms of speaking face to face. And I thought: ‘I don’t really want to be swept up in that.’”
Isabelle has reason to feel this way. A new study from Common Sense Media revealed texting is now the overwhelmingly favored method of communication among teens, a change from 2012 when the majority preferred chatting in person.
The same study noted that 42% of teens admitted social media has taken away from time they could have spent with their friends in person, a significant increase from six years ago when just 34% felt that way.
But it’s not just the lack of real communication that has kids turning their backs on social media. For many, it’s the pressure to perform, perfect and persuade their followers that life is pretty close to “perfect.”
“You start doing things that are dishonest,” 17-year-old Mary Amanuel of London told the Guardian. “Like Instagram: I was presenting this dishonest version of myself, on a platform where most people were presenting dishonest versions of themselves.”
Jeremiah Johnson, 18, felt he could never appear to be anything but happy, or he’d be punished for it.
“It’s a competition for who can appear the happiest,” he said. “And if you’re not happy and want to vent about it on social media, you’re attention-seeking.”
Social media can also be used as a tool to socially manipulate. If you were the only one not invited to a party, it takes a simple scroll to find out. A whopping 70% of social media users in that Common Sense media study admitted to feeling left out or excluded.
The reality is, most teens who frequent social media daily aren’t actually that happy. A new study out of the Pew Research Center found more than half of American teens between the ages of 13 and 17 are significantly stressed over their attachment to their phones. More than half of those kids reported making a concentrated effort to cut back on social media.
Additionally, a 2017 survey of British schoolchildren found 63% said they’d be happy if social media had never been invented.
“They’re becoming overwhelmed with the responsibility of maintaining their social sites and with upholding the somewhat inflated persona many have created on these sites, where they are constantly seeking approval via the amount of likes they get for any given post,” Lesley Bielby – with the US marketing firm Hill Holliday – told the Guardian.
Bielby recently worked on a study of Generation Z – people born after 1995. Gen Z is the first generation to have grown up with Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter.
Of the Gen Z teens surveyed, 41% said social media made them feel anxious, sad or depressed. The thought of quitting, however, piqued a different kind of anxiety – the fear of missing out. Bielby says the number one reason teens hesitate to delete their social media accounts is a fear they’ll be left out or ostracized.
“It’s like everyone in your friend group has gone to a party without telling you,” Johnson said. “I second-guess myself a lot. There are some days I’m really convinced I want to reinstall it, not for myself, but because I want to appear normal.”
Still, Bielby says, a crack is appearing, and more kids will likely delete social media from their lives as time goes on.
“As younger Gen Zers notice this behaviour among their older siblings and friends, they too will start to dial down their use of social media,” she told the Guardian.
And for those who’ve taken the plunge, it’s been a worthwhile move.
“Social media is so ingrained in teenage culture that it’s hard to take it out. But when you do, it’s such a relief,” Amanuel said. “People feel like social media is a part of them and their identities as teenagers and something you need to do, but I’m no less of a teenager because I don’t use it.”
We want to hear from you. How do you feel about quitting social media? What are you doing in your home to curb excessive use and teach your kids healthy tech habits? Sound off in the comments.