Menu Are teenagers vertical stack of three evenly spaced horizontal lines. Too often when writing about what teenagers like, we neglect to talk to the most important group of all: teens.
So we decided to put together a State of the Union on the American teenager. To learn what American teenagers in 2016 really like, and what they don’t, we polled about 60 of them from across the US. We spoke with teens ages 13 to 19, in middle school, high school, and college. We asked them about their digital lives and habits, the apps they use and the games they play, pop culture, and politics. Their answers offer a glimpse into what it’s like being a teenager in 2016.
We’ve drawn out the highlights below, along with some data from other sources, so keep scrolling for our guide to teenagers in 2016. For our survey on American teenagers, we talked to a group of about 60 teenagers from across the US, of various socioeconomic classes, grades, and ages. We didn’t want to focus on one particular geographic area, so we talked to teenagers from across the country, including California, Colorado, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania. Every teen we spoke with owned a smartphone, and most owned or regularly used a variety of devices, like gaming consoles, tablets, and desktop computers. Teens get their first smartphone when they’re 11. On average, the teens we spoke with received smartphones from their parents when they were 11 years old. 16 before she got a phone.
Teens are shy to talk about how much time they spend on their phones, but it’s a lot. We got lots of “too many” and “I’m embarrassed to say” responses, but the numbers we were able to get suggested teens spend about six hours a day on their phones. This is both in and out of school. And they’re spending lots of time in front of other screens, too.
Teens aren’t only spending a ton of time online — they’re shopping online too. Clothing has been relatively immune to the rise of e-commerce because people still like to try things on before buying. But when it comes to teenage shoppers, the option of being able to try on clothing before buying is becoming less important, according to a survey conducted by Piper Jaffray in 2015. US teens say they prefer to shop for clothing online from retailers that also operate their own brick-and-mortar stores.
The most popular by a landslide: Snapchat. It’s no surprise that teenagers love Snapchat. It’s how I communicate with most of my friends and it’s fun. Snapchat, because it is fun to send your friends what you’re doing, and where you are in a fast and easy way. I also like being able to make stories, for all of my friends to see, and I also enjoy seeing stories of my friends on it and see what they’re up to.
Spotify was almost universally heralded as the best music app, and it was also listed as a favorite app by a lot of respondents. I use it to share music, to see what my friends are listening to, and to find new music. Instagram is a standby favorite of teens, who swear by its filters and direct-message feature. I use Instagram to message my friends funny pictures I see on Instagram. Snapchat and Instagram, I love sharing photos all of the things I do and places I go. I also like seeing what others are up to.
You might not expect Twitter to be among teens’ favorite apps. After all, the company is having a hard time attracting new users. But a lot of teenagers we talked to really liked the platform. Twitter because I can update everyone all the time quickly and it’s not annoying like Facebook. Twitter because “you can voice your opinion on anything you want to and you can somewhat interact with celebrities. My favorite app is Twitter because I am the kind of person who needs to get out my thoughts, and Twitter may be like shouting into the void but at least I am heard and often validated by my peers. The teens we talked to said they and their friends were still using Facebook — but it wasn’t their favorite app.
I use Facebook, but I feel like I can’t be myself on it because my parents and my friends’ parents are my Facebook friends. Facebook is good for group events and things but it’s definitely not my favorite app. We also asked which apps were just flat-out uncool. People just don’t use it anymore. This pretty much lines up with what teens across the board are saying.
You use it for posting embarrassing or less aesthetically pleasing pictures you wouldn’t want to share with all of your friends. I did have a finsta with a friend, but we don’t use it anymore because it got too confusing to know which account you were on, to make sure we were posting on the right one, and not posting on the wrong one by accident,” one 16-year-old told us. A lot of my friends still have them and use them. A finsta is a fake Instagram account people use to post funny pictures they wouldn’t normally post for everyone to see. Usually on a finsta you only have your closer friends follow, so you can post embarrassing pictures of yourself without having everyone you’ve ever talked to see them. Facebook may be dead to teens, but a surprising number of them are texting their friends through Facebook Messenger. Facebook Messenger as a primary or secondary form of communicating with friends.
Eighty percent of the teenagers we talked to had one of these three phones. Teenagers are watching both cable and streaming services like Netflix — but there’s one clear winner. Hulu and Amazon were also listed by a lot of the teens we spoke with, but Netflix had the lion’s share. My family has cable and Netflix and Hulu, but for me all I watch is Netflix.