SALT LAKE CITY — Parents might think they know what their teenager is doing on social media, but do they really? The KSL Investigators surveyed hundreds of parents and teens in Utah to find out what kids are saying about social media, versus what parents think they know.
The survey asked teens direct questions such as:
- Have you been bullied through social media?
- Have you ever sent (or received) a nude or partially clothed photo?
- Have you done anything on social media that would surprise your parents?
The 120 teens who answered the anonymous survey were all between 13-17 years old. Most were female (72 percent), and they were divided between high school students (47 percent) and junior high or middle school students (53 percent).
Parents with teenagers in the same age range answered a survey with similar questions and 428 responded.
The KSL Investigators also interviewed a group of five teens: Annika Frandsen (16), Katrina Frandsen (16), Anthony Balducci (17), Liza Brady (15) and Belle Brady (15).
While 72 percent of parents who responded to the KSL survey reported their teens spent more than two hours a day on their phone, a smaller number of teenagers said the same (58 percent).
Instagram was the most popular social media app with teens, followed by YouTube and Snapchat.
When asked if they have a curfew for phone use in their home, 72 percent of parents said yes but only 54 percent of teens reported having to turn off their phones at a certain time.
Talking to strangers
Only 34 percent of parents surveyed said their teen has talked online to someone they don’t know, but 47 percent of teenagers admitted to doing it.
Among the group of teens KSL interviewed, every single one said they’ve chatted with a stranger but said they can pick out the “bad” ones right away.
“They talk a little differently I feel like,” Liza said.
“They ask more personal questions like, ‘what city do you live in?’ or ‘what’s your name?’” Belle said.
When it comes to online bullying, parents and kids were on the same page. In both surveys, 23 percent said they (or their teen) had been a victim of bullying.
When asked to explain, survey responses from the teenagers included:
- “I get called names”
- “Someone posted a video making fun of my voice”
- “Some girls kept telling me I was worthless and I should kill myself”
The teenagers who spoke to KSL on camera said messages like that are sent all the time.
“They (bullies) were like, ‘the world would be better without you, you should kill yourself. I’ll buy you a gun. I’ll kill you myself,’” Anthony said.
So who is doing the bullying? In the survey, 17 percent of parents said their child had done it, but 28 percent of teens actually admitted to saying something mean online.
According to the survey, sexting is an area where parents may be in the dark.
- 24 percent of teens say they’ve been asked for nude or partially clothed photos.
- 15 percent of parents say their teen has been asked for nude or partially clothed photos.
- 20 percent of teens say they’ve received nude or partially clothed photos.
- 12 percent of parents say their teen has received nude or partially clothed photos.
- 10 percent of teens say they’ve sent nude or partially clothed photos.
- 5 percent of parents say their teen has sent nude or partially clothed photos
However, one social media influencer said those numbers are way off.
“It’s definitely going on a lot more than we think it is, and it’s happening younger and younger,” said Collin Kartchner. “I’ll stand in front of a group of eighth-graders in Salt Lake County and say, ‘how many this week have had a photo come on your phone, maybe you didn’t pass or share, but maybe it was just sent to you this week?’ And 90 percent of the hands will go up.”
Kartchner is an extremely popular youth advocate. He travels the country talking to teens. Kartchner has more than 75,000 followers on Instagram, but he uses it to talk about why social media can be so damaging.
“It’s just keeping up with notifications and it’s dealing with drama and stress and everything,” he said. “It’s just too much for these kids to handle.”
“Have you ever done anything on social media that would surprise your parents?”
Most of the answers teenagers gave when asked what would surprise their parents fit the topics above. Responses included:
“Talk to people I don’t know” “I looked at stuff I shouldn’t have” “Sent pictures of things my parents wouldn’t approve me doing” “Looked at porn” “Sent nudes”
“I would say one thing that would shock my parents is maybe how many people I’m following that I don’t know very personally,” Annika said.
“People have asked me to send them nudes before,” Katrina said. “It’s a real thing. It shocked me so I’m sure it would shock my parents.”
While sexting, bullying and talking to strangers online are all concerns, there is one area of social media use that seems to affect teens more than anything else: self-esteem issues.
“They’re not posting their failures,” Anthony said. “They’re only posting the good things.”
“You’re really just comparing your life to other people’s lives and that’s not going to bring any happiness to you,” Katrina said.
Most of the teens surveyed agree. When asked to name something negative about social media, the biggest thing that gets teens down is comparing themselves to others.
- “You’re not good enough”
- “Feel bad about yourself”
Kartchner understands the dilemma.
“It’s hard for kids to say ‘I want to get off of social media. I know it’s ruining my self-esteem, or it’s giving me depression, but I’m going to be disconnected from everyone,’” he said.
In a newly released survey by the Deseret News and Brigham Young University, parents nationwide said the biggest worry they have for their teenagers today is overuse of technology.
So what’s the solution? A whopping 93 percent of parents in the KSL survey said they regularly talk to their teen about social media, but only 63 percent of teens who responded said the same.
What parents need to hear
Teenagers in the survey were asked “What would make you feel more comfortable sharing more?” and here’s what parents need to hear:
- “If they didn’t judge me”
- “Less fear of consequences”
- “If they would relax and just listen before they start yelling at me about how I messed up”
Kartchner has an additional piece of advice for parents: don’t use the phone as a punishment or reward.
“When I say, ‘Why don’t you talk to mom? Why don’t you talk to dad about this?’ the No. 1 response is, ‘If I do, they’ll take my phone,’” said Kartchner.
Kartchner and the teens surveyed had the same advice for parents: Shame and punishment don’t work. Instead, in a world where teens are always “connected,” make sure they’re also connected to you.
“I tell parents … (this phone) has to stop being the pawn, the dance of I give and I take and this is reward and punishment," Kartchner said. “Because in that dance we’re losing connection with our kids.”
Kartchner said there needs to be a new attitude of love and no shaming. He also said parents need to realize if they give kids with under-developed brains technology that’s for adults, they’re going to make mistakes. When they do, he said, parents need to be there to guide and love their teens so they make better choices going forward.