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Most adolescents with access to smart phones are living their social lives online as much as they do face-to-face. Adults worry that teens are hooked on social media, but most have no idea what teens are actually doing online.

Over the past year, we collaborated with “Anderson Cooper 360” on an exploration of the hidden digital world of adolescents. We invited over 200 13-year olds from schools around the country to participate in a research project to discover what 13-year-olds are actually posting online.

Adolescents and their parents completed surveys about the child’s involvement with social media and psychological adjustment. Most importantly, teens agreed to download an app to their social media accounts that archived the content of everything they posted on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook from September, 2014, to April, 2015 (all posts and pictures, but not direct messaging).

In this study, we examined the content of what teens actually say and do on social media, not simply what they say they do — and what it means to them.

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