One fifth of 16-21-year-olds spend six hours on smartphone daily – study

One third say beauty standards on social media make life harder now than for parents

A fifth of 16- to 21-year-olds spend more than six hours on their smartphone every day, according to new research.

The research, from Young Social Innovators and Amárach, found Generation Z spend an average of four hours per day on their smartphone. Only three per cent spend one hour or less on their smartphone.

The research was conducted in April and May 2019, with a sample size of 458 young people.

The majority (93 per cent) feel that the life of a teenager is more difficult now than it was for their parents.


While pressure to achieve good exam grades, go to college and get a good job were cited as the areas where life has become most difficult (36 per cent), a large proportion of young people indicated that “unrealistic beauty and life satisfaction” perpetuated by social media made life more difficult for today’s teenagers (31 per cent).

A large proportion of those surveyed (28 per cent) felt that the constant peer pressure and scrutiny from social media also contributed to making life more difficult.

Despite feeling pressurised by the “always on culture”, young people feel that social media plays a positive role in their lives. Some 60 per cent of respondents said that social media has positively impacted their lives, with 67 per cent of males agreeing to this statement and 58 per cent of females.

Youth culture

Rachel Collier, CEO of Young Social Innovators said smartphone usage can involve a range of activities for young people.

“For some, staying networked and connected is very important; others may engage in video or gaming; while for some, it’s the source of news and information that might stimulate a school project or further learning,” she said.

“These activities are not inherently bad or damaging, but we are aware that prolonged use likely takes time and energy away from important social interactions and real-life relationships, as well as off-line learning and general wellbeing. We need to focus on getting the balance right between smartphone usage and real-life experiences, without trying to roll-back on something that is firmly part of contemporary youth culture.”

Sarah Rooney, associate director with Amárach Research, said "the scrutiny and unrealistic expectations of beauty and life perfection" arising from social media interaction comes across as "areas of concern" for young people.

“Interestingly, while young people feel social media has made their lives more difficult by creating this culture of scrutiny, the majority of them also see it as a force for good. This research clearly highlights the conflicting relationship that young people have with social media,” she said.

“As the first generation born into social media, they view it as contributing positively to their lives, however they also appear to be struggling with the pressures stemming from it. The smartphone has become an extension of this generation, as shown by the vast amount of time they report spending on it.

“As adults and as a society, we need to be mindful of the uniquely intrusive and ‘always on’ nature of smartphones and the effects this can have on anxiety and wellbeing amongst young people.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times