Teen Study: Social Media Is Positive Experience

A study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project reveals what teens think about the online experience. While bullying on social media sites like Facebook gets a lot of news coverage, most teens think social networks are a friendly place for them.

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Bullying on social media sites like Facebook gets a lot of news coverage, though most teens actually think social networks are friendly places for them. That's according to a new study released today by Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, most teens still do see a lot of meanness towards other kids online.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: If you sit down with some teenagers and ask them if people are mean on Facebook, heads nod.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah.

SYDELL: I'm talking to a group of 17-year-olds at Pioneer High School in San Jose, California. Shasta Hudson and Samantha Abrahams elaborate on just how mean.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I mean, I think pretty mean. People just, like, they use Facebook as...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: They're honest.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah. They're very honest. So they can say stuff that they wouldn't usually say in person, because they're behind a computer.

SYDELL: Facebook definitely adds another dimension to the emotional turmoil of teenage hood. Instead of having fights among a few friends or in a solitary corner of the schoolyard, Abrahams says teenage drama gets a bigger audience online that bleeds over into the real world.

SAMANTHA ABRAHAMS: A couple breaks up, and then everyone's going to up to the couple and like, what happened? What happened to you? And you're like - where as if, like, if there wasn't Facebook then, like, people wouldn't really catch on. They wouldn't really know.

SYDELL: Despite all that drama, this group of teens actually thinks Facebook is a really positive place. It helps them stay in touch with friends and family, says Shasta Hudson.

SHASTA HUDSON: I have a sister that goes to Azuza Pacific in L.A. for school. And so she's always away. So I go on her Facebook and check in and look at pictures and see what she's up to. And look at her statuses, and it lets me know what she's doing.

SYDELL: And as much as some kids can be mean on Facebook, it can also be a place where people can be nicer than they are in the real world. Mariah Blackmore is out as a bisexual. One day, a boy started saying mean things about her sexuality on her Facebook page.

MARIAH BLACKMORE: Like everyone was against him. Like, what the hell is your problem. And then - so then everyone started standing up for me. I'm like, oh, this is cool.

SYDELL: The experiences of Blackmore and these other teens is pretty standard, according to a new study from Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. Amanda Lenhart is co-author of the study, which surveyed nearly 800 teenagers.

AMANDA LENHART: On one hand, we find that actually teens have a pretty good experience on social network sites. That, you know, 70 percent of them say people are mostly kind in their experience on social network sites.

SYDELL: Although only eight percent of teens say they have been the target of online bullying, a very large number say they have seen other people being harassed.

LENHART: We also hear from the vast majority of teens who use these sites, about 88 percent, that they see people being mean and cruel to one another in these spaces.

SYDELL: And Lenhart says for those teens who are bullied, it can be traumatic. Lenhart's survey found a few other interesting things about teens and social networks. Close to half of online teens say they have lied about their age in order to access a website or online service. However, 86 percent of teens say they have discussed what they do online with their parents.

Another surprising finding of this survey is that teens do care about privacy. More than half have decided not to post something online because they were concerned it might reflect badly on them in the future. That's true of Mariah Blackmore.

BLACKMORE: Especially for me, because I'm trying to become a firefighter and they do background checks, like really heavy background checks.

SYDELL: What does seem clear from this study, and this group of teens, is that the online social world has added a new layer of drama to a time in life that is already fraught with plenty of anxiety.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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