There are actually some positive statistics you should know about Christian teens and social media.
A New Voice Raises Concerns About Teens and Social Media
Last month, actress and singer Selena Gomez confessed that she is “scared” by what she sees as the exposure of young girls and boys on Instagram and other social media platforms. Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival, she said, “for my generation, specifically, social media has been terrible.” She talked about meeting young girls who have been “devastated dealing with bullying and not being able to have their own voice.” And she’s been open about becoming “depressed” while browsing the popular photo-sharing app.
The 26-year-old pop star, who is an Instagram queen in her own right, has warned young people to be mindful of how often they’re on social media, saying, “It can be great in moments, but I would just be careful and allow yourself some time limits when you should use it and when not.” It seems to be advice she’s taking to heart, as Gomez recently confirmed that she no longer has the Instagram app on her phone and uses someone else’s device to check her account “periodically.”
As the third most-followed person on Instagram with legions of real-life fans, Gomez’s words (and actions) on social media use carry a certain weight. But, at a time when “droves” are leaving Facebook due to privacy concerns and “social media detoxes” are promising higher levels of happiness, the generation coming up behind those of Gomez’s age group appear to be more invested in social media interaction than ever. A Barna survey tracking the attitudes of Gen Z toward social media use (among other things) revealed that the overwhelming majority of young people, ages 13-18, are satisfied with the amount of time they spend on social networks.
When asked about the ways they use social media, 69 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “I am happy with the amount of time I spend on social media.” That percentage generally held true across age breaks between teens 16 and under (71 percent) and teens over 16 (67 percent). It also held true across ethnicity (white, black, hispanic/latino, other), location (inner city, suburb, rural), and region of the country (northeast, south, midwest, west).
The Faith Factor With Teens and Social Media
The most significant overall disparity in Barna’s results came when respondents were broken down into faith segments. “Engaged Christians” and “churched” teens had higher levels of satisfaction with social media use—67 percent and 71 percent, respectively—than unchurched teens (57 percent). (Engaged Christians were defined as those who have attended church in the past six months and who agree that the “Bible is the inspired word of God and contains truth about the world.”)
Unchurched teens were more likely to express dissatisfaction with the amount of time they spent on social media, with 41% saying they use social media more than they would like. That number was only 33 percent for “engaged Christians” and 26 percent for churched teens.
Satisfaction with teens and social media use may have something to do with whom Christian and churched Gen Zers spend time online (e.g., their internet “friends”). However, the survey doesn’t dig deep enough to reveal this. What it does tell us is how Gen Zers perceive their circle of (real-life) friends and acquaintances.
The Friend Factor With Teens and Social Media
When asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with the statement, “Most of my friends do not share my beliefs,” 31 percent of teens agreed somewhat or agreed strongly compared with a similar number (35 percent) who disagreed somewhat or disagreed strongly. Thirty-four percent (34 percent) of teens indicated they didn’t know for sure if most of their friends shared their beliefs.
Again, a significant shift was uncovered when respondents were broken down by faith segments. Engaged Christians (44 percent) and churched teens (41 percent) disagreed somewhat or disagreed strongly at a higher rate than the general Gen Z population, indicating that most Gen Z believers (or church-attenders) largely maintain relationships with friends and acquaintances who share the same religious, political, and social outlooks.
That said, it is interesting to note that engaged and church-going Gen Zers overwhelmingly say they are comfortable talking about their beliefs with people who do not share those beliefs. When asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with the statement, “I am comfortable talking about my beliefs with people who believe different things than I do,” 81 percent of engaged or churched teens agreed strongly or somewhat, compared with only 65 percent of the general Gen Z population.
What do these stats about teens and social media mean for churches trying to reach Gen Z?
The dangers of teens and social media are becoming more apparent by the week—and those dangers seem to be intensified for the Gen Z segment of the population. When presented with the following statements, Gen Zers consistently answered in the affirmative at higher levels than either Millennials or Generation X: