Why So Many Teenagers Are Choosing to Take Breaks From Social Media

Slow clap for the kids.

Teenagers have a reputation for being glued to their smartphones, obsessing over Instagram and frantic about breaking their Snapchat streak. But a new survey found 58 percent of American teens take breaks from social media — and 65 percent of them do it voluntarily.

The survey looked at the social media habits of 790 teenagers between 13 and 17 years old. The findings are part of an ongoing project from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago studying teens’ technology habits and why they take breaks from social media, according to the survey’s press release.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Fifty-eight perfect of the teens surveyed said they’d taken at least one break from social media, and of those kids, 60 percent said they’d taken three or more breaks. More than half of these disconnectors said their breaks usually lasted for a week or longer. Interestingly, 23 percent of teens who’d never given themselves space from their social accounts said they wanted to take a break from them.

Voluntary breaks happened for one of three reasons, according to the teens: They were tired of the anxiety caused by trying to stay in the loop, their social media use was interfering with work or school or it was causing conflict or drama that they didn’t want to deal with anymore. The most common reason for involuntary social media breaks was (unsurprisingly) having phones taken away by parents followed by devices being lost or stolen.

Additionally, the survey found interesting associations between social media breaks and economic status. Teens from households that made less than $50,000 a year were more likely to take breaks — and for longer periods of time — compared to teens living in higher-income homes. It’s worth noting, however, that previous research has found the opposite to be true — higher-income households tend to spend less time on the internet.

The teens who chose to take breaks reported feeling “better for the experience,” the press release notes. Teens who lost their phone or had their phone privileges revoked, however, felt more anxiety (FOMO, as the kids would say) about what they were missing during their time off the grid.

“While it might seem surprising to hear that teens who are usually thought of as such fervent users of social media are taking breaks, many teens have very good life or relationship management reasons for taking time away from these platforms,” Amanda Lenhart, senior research scientist at The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and co-author of the report said in the press release. She adds that taking breaks isn’t always a good thing for kids who mostly communicate through their devices: “For many teens, being off social media removes them from a major site of social and emotional support as well as their dominant conduit for news and information.”

This adds another layer to the complicated relationship we all have with screens: They can certainly help us connect with others, but when used excessively, they can have negative effects on our well-being.

These findings are encouraging, though. It seems today’s teenagers may be better equipped to set boundaries with technology, specifically with social media, than older generations who didn’t grow up with the internet at their fingertips 24/7. Maybe it’s time we stop shaming teens for their phone use and try to model some of their healthier screen habits instead.

Read more about the survey here.