[Illustration Carmen Segovia; WSJ]
…Such abstention from social media places him in a small minority in his peer group. According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, 92% of American teenagers (ages 13-17) go online daily, including 24% who say they are on their devices “almost constantly.” Seventy-one percent use Facebook, half are on Instagram, and 41% are Snapchat users. And nearly three-quarters of teens use more than one social-networking site. A typical teen, according to Pew, has 145 Facebook friends and 150 Instagram followers.
But what if a teen doesn’t want to live in that networked world? In a culture where prosocial behavior happens increasingly online, it can seem antisocial to refuse to participate. Are kids who reject social media missing out?
Jacqueline Nesi, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies teens and social media, says, “Based on survey data from our lab as well as national statistics, I would estimate that only between 5% and 15% of teens abstain from social-media use.”
In a study published this spring in the journal Psychological Science, researchers created an Instagram-like program and then used fMRI scans to measure teens’ reactions to the photos that received more or fewer likes. What they discovered was a process of “quantifiable social endorsement,” with teens using what received likes on social media “to learn how to navigate their social world.” But such cues can be adaptive or maladaptive. The researchers found that adolescents “were more likely to like a photo—even one portraying risky behaviors, such as smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol—if that photo had received more likes from peers.”
Such peer pressure is hardly new. What is new, with social media, is the speed with which peers can comment on each other’s lives, as well as the assumption that they should. “There’s a kind of bipolar effect that social media has on girls her age,” Marnie Kenney said of her daughter. “They’re constantly being judged. Their self-worth is constantly measured by other people’s response to every single thing they put online.”