Nearly half of minor U.S. teens report they’re online “almost constantly. But a new Pew Research Center survey reports that nearly 7 in 10 of those teens say they do like downtime without their smartphone, although about 4 in 10 admit that makes them feel anxious.

But despite some concerns about smartphones and their impact, most teens say the benefits (70%) of having a smartphone outweigh harms (30%) for teens their age.

As screens have become nearly ubiquitous in the lives of teenagers, Pew decided to see their views on screens — and figure out how those differ from their parents’ thoughts on teen screen time. Wrote Monica Anderson, Michelle Faverio and Eugenie Park in a report released Tuesday, “Our questions explored the emotions teens tie to their devices, the impact of smartphones on youth and the challenges parents face when raising children in the digital age.”

“We really thought that this is an important moment to do this study and bring teen and parent voices into the conversation surrounding the impact of screens. There’s been so much discussion of that,” Colleen McClain, a research associate and part of the Pew team involved in the study, told Deseret News. “This allows us to really dive into the ways in which screen time is not just a teen issue, but a family issue.”

Among key findings in the report:

  • Many teens welcome a break from their phones. Seventy-two percent said they “very often or sometimes feel peaceful” if they don’t have their smartphone handy, though 44% said the absence made them feel anxious.
  • Teens think their phones promote hobbies, but are less great for socialization. The report said 69% of teens said their smartphones help them with hobbies and interests, but just 30% say smartphones are helping them learn good social skills.
  • Half of parents say they have looked on their teen’s phone. And the teens often know it, said McClain.
  • Smartphone use is the focus of some parent-teen arguments. An identical 4 in 10 parents and teens say they argue with one another regularly about time that teens spend on their smartphones.
  • Parents get distracted, too. In the survey, 46% of the teens say their parents are “at least somewhat distracted” by their own smartphones when the teens are trying to talk to them. Fewer parents agree, at 31%.
  • Thirty-eight percent of teens say they spend too much time on their phone. And 27% say they spend too much time on social media. But majorities say they spend just the right amount of time on phones (51%) and social media (64%). The small share remaining say they don’t spend enough time. Girls are more apt than boys to say they feel like they overuse both their screens and social media.

About the survey

The online survey, which was conducted by Ipsos for Pew Research Center between Sept. 26 and Oct. 23, included 1,435 U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 and one of their parents. The participants were from a nationally representative sample of adults from the Ipsos Knowledge Panel who were also parents of teens; they were questioned about their teenage son or daughter (randomly selected if they had more than one), then that teen was also asked to complete questions focusing on teens and screens.

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The survey was weighted to be nationally representative of two groups: teens ages 13-17 and also parents who have teens in that age group, based on age, gender, race and ethnicity, household income and other factors, per the report.

Differences by teen gender and age

In the survey, young teen girls ages 13 and 14 were more apt to say that the harm from smartphones outweighs the benefit, compared to either older teen girls or teen boys in general.

While at least 60% of teens have not tried to cut back on their social media and screen time, girls are more likely than boys to have curbed their social media use some.

McClain said the researchers also asked teens about five emotions related to their phone use, asking if time without their phones made them happy, peaceful, anxious, upset or lonely at least sometimes. Without their phones, 74% said they feel happy (32% often, 42% sometimes). Peaceful was the answer for 72% (25% often and 47% sometimes). One in 10 said being without a phone often made them feel anxious, while an additional 1 in 3 said it sometimes made them anxious (44% total). Upset and lonely were the response at least sometimes for roughly 40%.

Parents worried, but do they act?

Other surveys have also noted concerns among parents when it comes to managing social media and screen time. The 2023 American Family Survey, conducted by YouGov for Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institute and its Center for the Studies of Elections and Democracy, asked parents to pick challenges families face from a curated list of 12. “Social media, video games or other electronic resources” tied for second place as one of the top three choices for 27% of families. The top concern was the cost associated with raising a family. High work demands and stress on parents also tied for No. 2.

According to the new Pew report, “With the rise of smartphones, today’s parents must tackle many questions that previous generations did not,” the report says. “How closely should you monitor their phone use? How much screen time is too much? And how often do phones lead to disagreements?”

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Parents are pretty evenly divided on whether they have snooped through a teen’s smartphone — almost half say yes and almost half say no. And 43% of teens think at least one parent checks their phone. The report said that 64% of parents of 13- to 14-year-olds look through their child’s phone, but the number drops to just over 4 in 10 for parents whose teens are between age 15 and 17.

Parents are much more likely to say they manage how much time their kids spend on their smartphone. Just 19% say that’s not a priority. But parent are also fairly divided on whether they put time limits on smartphone use. That’s much more often done by parents of teens ages 13-14 (62%) than it is by parents whose teens are 15, 16 or 17 (37%).

Higher-income parents are more likely to say it’s hard to manage a teen’s time on the phone.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting in the digital age,” said McClain. “All of our work has shown that. One of the striking things is, for parents who are struggling to keep tabs on their teen’s phone use, they’re not alone.”

And even as parents try to help their kids navigate smartphone use, many are trying to negotiate their own smartphone habits. Half of parents admit they, too, spend too much time on their phone, according to the report, with half of higher income — $75,000 annually and above — saying that, compared to 38% of those making less than $30,000.