What do teens use social networks for? A UCL-KU Leuven survey provided a nuanced answer.
Do teens use social networks mainly to keep up with family? So concluded a study jointly conducted by UCL and KU Leuven on the digital practices of teens, part of a larger survey on the daily lives of young people. On the French-speaking side, research was conducted under the supervision of Prof. Laura Merla (UCL) by Prof. Jacques Marquet and Jonathan Dedonder and with financial support from UCL's Gender Equality Policy. On the Flemish side, research was conducted under the supervision of Profs Koen Matthijs and Leen D'Haenens (KU Leuven). Researchers collected and analysed data from 1,600 adolescents aged 11 to 18.
The study reveals that teens use a wide range of digital applications (from four to eight) to communicate with their family. The top three are Facebook (68%), multimodal applications such as WhatsApp, Skype or FaceTime (63%) and Snapchat (53%). However, contrary to what other studies show, Facebook is mainly used by teens to interact with their parents, even more so by teens whose parents are separated. Digital technology is a communication tool that helps maintain family ties and creates a form of virtual involvement.
What devices do teens use?
Smartphones are used most (88%), followed by televisions (85.2%), laptops (76.5%) and tablets (69.1%). The tablet is a favourite among younger people, which appears to put parents more at ease: it doesn’t require a subscription, only a Wi-Fi connection, and parents feel they can more closely monitor their children’s online activity.
The study also analyses teen dependence on social networks. The majority say they’re moderately dependent, and the degree of dependence decreases with age. There are three groups: slightly dependent (16%), moderately dependent (67%) and highly dependent (16%).
Is digital replacing face-to-face?
Currently, 62% of teens prefer face-to-face contact and 13% prefer network contact. The rest report no preference.
The general picture is rather reassuring compared to discourses that demonise social networks. Teens seem to be aware of the dangers, and the idea that the virtual is replacing face-to-face relationships is not confirmed in this study. Teens use digital technology mainly to keep in touch with family and friends.
The next part of this survey will focus on young people who grow up in families whose father and mother don’t live under the same roof.