OTTAWA — The Canadian government spent $87,000 this year to find out how teenagers feel about social media and ultimately discovered that kids these days sure are on their phones a lot.
Health Canada was looking to figure out how best to deliver health-related messages to the heavy smartphone users that are Canadian teens. A contractor, Corporate Research Associates Inc., held focus groups featuring youth aged 13 to 17 in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Sudbury, Quebec City and St. John’s, then delivered a report in March. The participants got paid $100 in Vancouver and $85 everywhere else.
The findings aren’t exactly surprising. Youth “rely on social media as a communication tool to connect with others,” and “as a source of entertainment to fill time,” the report said. Much like adults, kids don’t share their smartphones with others, the study found. Younger teenagers aged 13-15 were more likely to have their parents checking up on their online activity while those 16-17 had more privacy.
Youth don’t think about how much time they are spending online and instead “simply consider themselves to be always accessible to others through their device.” Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube are the preferred channels while Facebook and Facebook Messenger are “perceived to be more of an older person’s social media platform” and more likely to be used by parents.
“A number of older participants described social media usage as a coping mechanism for social anxiety,” the report found. One participant described waiting for the focus group to start and everyone being on their phones. “That way you don’t have to talk to someone else,” the participant said. “At family events when you really don’t want to talk to someone, it’s easiest just to take out your phone and avoid the awkward conversation,” another teen said.
Teenagers aren’t about to ask health questions to their peers on social media, the research company found. “I’d look dumb if I posted a serious question on social media. Why would I do that?” one participant said. They are much more likely to just Google it. Some questions that teens said they’d consider asking included this one, about marijuana: “I guess if it’s going to be legal it can’t be that bad?”
Advertisements were a concern. “In each location, youth openly discussed how the frequency of ads has increased noticeably in recent years, and they perceive it has aggressively invaded their space online,” the report said. Teenagers felt preyed upon by companies looking to sell them stuff. “I like looking at cat photos or cat videos,” one participant said. “Then suddenly I have ads popping up all the time for cat food and kitty litter! I don’t even have a cat!”
Although youth in Ontario, in particular, remembered government ad campaigns such as one warning against fentanyl, some worried that “force fed” ads from the government on channels like Snapchat might end up being creepy. “It would be kind of like one of those books, 1984,” said one teen. Still, they felt that having an online portal designed specifically for their …read more