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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 1, 2015 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: The following is a CNN Special Report.
COOPER: Welcome to the CNN Special Report, "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens". I'm Anderson Cooper.
Cell phones and social media have revolutionized the way we live, but how has plugging in changed the way your kids are growing up? Try to remember what being 13 felt like. Most of us worried a lot about fitting in, being liked, answering the ultimate question, "Am I cool?"
Well, now imagine middle school with social media, likes, followers, retweets. It's a scoreboard for a realtime 24/7 popularity competition. It's just one of the reasons that kids are hooked, living more and more of their lives online.
But do we really have any idea what it's doing to them? Do you know the secret language they're speaking to each other? That they don't want their parents or teachers to understand?
We spent the last two years looking for answers in a first of its kind investigation. We want to warn you, what we found the kids say online might shock you, especially when you remember they're only 13. But we think it's important to show you it all unfiltered.
And for the next hour, we're taking you here inside the secret world of teens.
Millions of tweets, comments, pictures, posts, likes, hash tags, videos, a steady stream of social media activity and all constantly at the fingertips of 13-year-olds across America. The volume of internet noise can be overwhelming and indecipherable to adults untrained in a new language of social media.
So how to crack the code? 360 went directly to the source. 13-year- olds themselves. We signed up hundreds of eighth graders at eight different schools across the country, from cities, suburbs, and small towns, and they gave our team of experts access to their social media feeds in realtime. With the permission of their parents and their schools, teens registered their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts through a secure private server that stored everything they posted over six months.
From mean comments...
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Sweetie, I suggest you stop being a bitch about it.
COOPER: ... to threatening ones...
UNIDENTIFED MALE: On a serious level, you're a (inaudible).
COOPER: ... supportive messages...
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: You're one of my best friends. And I trust you with anything.
COOPER: ... and explicit ones.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: God damn you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch.
COOPER: They all went into the vault, more than 150,000 posts in all. 150,000 pieces of a very complicated puzzle, seen, stored, and analyzed by our team of academics.
This ground breaking CNN investigation is the first major study to look at what kids actually say on social media and why it matters so much to them, designed by renowned child clinical psychologist Dr. Marion Underwood and sociologist Dr. Robert Faris, teens also answered survey questions like how often have you gotten into a conflict with someone on social media? Have you posted something that you later regretted? What's the best thing that's happened to you on social media? How often the you worry that you're missing out on what your friends are doing online?
What our experts discovered might completely change what you think it's like being 13.
The first headline, the more teens look at social media, the more distressed they can become. Teens check their social media feeds way more than they actually post something. Our experts called it lurking. And the heaviest users in this study told us they checked their feeds more than 100 times a day.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Sometimes I'll catch myself, like, going on my social media way too much about 200 times in a day.
COOPER: We asked about 20 teens in our study to send us videos responding to questions about the power of social media in their lives.
SELAM: The most times I check it in a day, I lose track. It's just a need. Like I need to.
ZACK: Yes, I probably check my phone 90, 100. Even when I'm hanging out with people, I still check my phone a lot because I mean the one thing I don't want to do is miss out on something.
GABBY: I think I checked it about 100 times at school before. Like, I'll just whip it out in the middle of class. I'm like, "Hmm, I wonder what everybody else is up to."
COOPER: Why check over 100 times a day even during school? They're really worried about fitting in. 21 percent say...
UNIDENTIFED MALE: I want to make sure no one is saying mean things about me.
COOPER: 36 percent say...
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I want to see if my friends are doing things without me.
COOPER: And 61 percent say...
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I want to see if my posts are getting likes and comments.
ZACK: Even though I was at school, I would still check my phone because I mean people post things at school and stuff. I used to always worry.
COOPER: Clinical psychologist Dr. Marion Underwood is the co-author of the study.
MARION UNDERWOOD, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: It is stressful to constantly be monitoring to be worrying about what people -- how people might have responded to what you've put online. This is an age group that has a lot of anxiety about where they fit in, how they rank, what their peer status is. But they don't just get online to see how many likes or favorites they got. They're comparing their numbers to other people's numbers.
COOPER: Some kids even buy likes and followers. Yes, there's an app for that, too. Why do they do it? Think of social media as a popularity barometer. How do kids really boost their status? Our study found it was actually bullying or social aggression that did the trick. Sometimes the aggression is hidden, or covert. Sometimes it's right there in your face.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Go die. Stop trying to be popular. (Inaudible) you're ugly.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Boy, we about to come for your life. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: It really get to a (inaudible) point where I just want to burn bodies.
COOPER: And those are some of the tamer posts that we can actually show on television. Remember, these are all from 13-year-olds. How can they talk to each other like that, you might ask? The answer is complicated. Because the communication is done digitally, teens are able to remove themselves emotionally from what they say. In fact, most told us that they say things on social media they'd never say face-to-face.
EMMY: I don't like dealing with things face-to-face because it's really easy to hide behind your phone, and on face-to-face, you have to deal with the other person and I don't like dealing with people that cry or get really mad and they say something mean back to me, and I lose, and I don't like losing.
COOPER: Some even had horror stories of friends cyber bullied through fake social media accounts.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: One time Susan and Paige, they made up a fake account. And they just scroll through every single one of the photos and commented something rude. It's not human to be able to say such rude things to someone, especially behind a screen where you're being cowards.
COOPER: Direct aggression first but covert aggression according to our experts can hurt even deeper. Our study found that sites like Instagram and Twitter are the new front lines in this hidden warfare and parents hardly ever recognize the weapons. Some attacks are cleverly cloaked through what's called sub tweeting.
SELAM: A sub tweet is when someone talks about somebody else through Twitter, but without actually saying the names.
COOPER: Teens beat up on a classmate in the cyber world without including their Twitter handle, even though in the real world, everyone knows who they're referring to.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: I'm so done trying to get along with you.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I really want to choke that girl and sling her across the bridge.
COOPER: Then there's what our experts call sins of omission, intentionally excluding peers just to hurt them. One favorite technique is to not tag the name of a friend on a photo. Take a group photo on Instagram. Everyone looks like they're having a great time, right? But look deeper. All the teens are tagged, except for one. A simple mistake? Don't bet on it.
GABBY: Not everyone in a group photo gets tagged. Because sometimes you don't like the person in the group, so you're just, like, "No, I ain't tagging you."
COOPER: So even when you're invited to a party in real life, you can still get kicked out of it on social media.
UNDERWOOD: For a lot of 13-year-olds, they really have one social group. And if they're left out of that one group, that feels devastating. They also view it as all or nothing. You know, you're popular. You're in, you're cool, or you're nothing, you're trash, you're left out, you're excluded and they feel like it will last forever.
GIA: Do people ever post photos to make people feel left out on purpose? Yes, that actually happens a lot.
COOPER: Nearly half of the teens in this study said they felt purposely excluded by friends online. But it's often, many of those same kids retaliate, more than a third in this study admitted they purposely exclude others as well.
UNDERWOOD: It's really powerful form of aggression, because it's so subtle that it's considered bad form to respond. So lots of kids have experienced the pain of it. Many who do it are doing it for the purpose of hurting others but they can do it with the full expectation that they will not pay one single social consequence.
COOPER: Our study found the biggest source of online conflict for middle schoolers is their friends. Not strangers, not kids from a rival clique. Their biggest source of pain is from those closest to them.
[21:10:02] 360's other expert sociologist dr. Robert Faris calls all of this social combat.
ROBERT FARIS, CNN 360 EXPERT SOCIOLOGIST: To play the popularity game effectively, I think some kids believe that they need to engage in some hardball, and I think they do things deliberately to make their rivals in particular, who are often their friends, feel pretty bad.
COOPER: Those bad feelings, that humiliation which comes from bullying and social combat, is only intensified on social media where everyone is watching all the time. In fact, our study found that the line between the real world and the cyber world no longer exists for kids in middle school.
You heard that right. The line between the real world and the cyber world no longer exists for kids in middle school. In fact, what happens online sometimes matters even more to them than what happens in real life. Why? Well, the simple answer is there are more witnesses.
And that's why our next topic is so important. Kids as young as 13 exposed to sexting and revenge porn and what that is doing to their mental health, coming up next on "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens".
COOPER: Welcome back to the CNN Special Report "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens." It's time to talk about sex and your teens, specifically what our study found they're exposed to when using social media. I want to warn you, some of what you're going to hear might shock you're welcome especially considering these kids are only 13 years old.
GABBY: I always tell them, I'm like, "If you send me a dick pic, I will slice it off."
COOPER: The study found the kids as young as 13 are exposed to the darker sexualized side of the internet.
GABBY: I was like walking out of the store with my mom and I looked down at my phone and there's this wiener. [21:15:05] And I was like, "Mom."
COOPER: 15 percent of middle schoolers admitted they had received inappropriate photos. The damage lasts long after the photo is deleted. These kids were almost 50 percent more distressed than others in our study.
UNDERWOOD: Receiving these pictures is upsetting, especially at such a young age. It's illegal. It's worrisome. It's scary. It's dangerous. It's loaded. If you tell an adult, everybody will get in a lot of trouble. So I think it puts them in a really tough position.
COOPER: And just like in the adult world, sometimes middle schoolers use these sexualized photos for revenge.
MORGAN: What they like to call it is exposing. It's either like an ex-girlfriend or an ex-boyfriend. What they do is they post naked pictures of the person and sharing this stuff that was supposed to be kept private between the two. And really shouldn't have happened in the first place, but it did, and now they're spreading it.
COOPER: And remember, these kids are only 13.
UNDERWOOD: When they're hurt, when they're furious, when they go through a breakup, which is very intense and difficult at this young age, unfortunately, I think they're likely to use social media to get back at the person by sharing inappropriate pictures. Unfortunately, that's just perfect ammunition.
COOPER: Many middle schoolers we spoke to said their parents warned them about the dangers of inappropriate photos. They also say their parents have warned them to watch out for online predators. We asked our group of 13-year-olds to scroll through their followers and look for strangers.
GABBY: A lot of people follow me that i do not know. Here's this one person, I think he's a fake account. His user name is (inaudible) dot hot 69. Anyway. I think he's fake. He's not even that cute. But I have absolutely no idea who that is.
COOPER: Let's look a little more closely at that. This Instagram user says he's 18, following a 13-year-old girl.
GABBY: There's actually a lot of people I have no idea who they are. I just let them follow me because the more the merrier.
COOPER: And Gabby, like many middle schoolers in this study, shares a lot of her life on social media, sometimes even more than she realizes. Take a look at this Instagram post. She wants to show her friends that she's tanning at a lake. Seems innocent enough, but any follower who clicks on this photo can pinpoint exactly where she is. That's because of the locator function that she didn't even know was turned on.
According to the FBI, there are more than half a million sexual predators online every single day in America and they regularly create fake online profiles to groom unsuspecting victims.
UNDERWOOD: For a certain group of young people, they want to attract as many followers as possible, so they're not going to be highly vigilant or highly discriminating about who they are allowing to follow them. And unfortunately, they don't have that entire cast of thousands in mind with everything they post.
COOPER: Other potential hazards of posting photos are not always so obvious to adults. Take selfies. The art of the selfie has become the national pastime for America's teens. And there are rules. Lots and lots of them.
SELAM: Do you feel confident? Is an outfit amazing or do you feel really pretty? Or on point that day.
GIA: And I use different faces, like duck face or smiling.
ZACK: Sometimes you do this. You show like this. Whatever.
CATHERINE: I specialize in this. I made this Google document of like all my rules and requirements on how to take a selfie.
GIA: So then when I take the selfies, I just scroll through and just see the ones that I want.
ZACK: The goal is to make your selfie look as best you can because it's kind of for insecure people because you don't feel good about yourself.
CATHERINE: I take a lot of pictures. Don't judge. I take like 100 pictures usually, or like 150, maybe 200 sometimes if I really can't get a right one. There it is.
COOPER: But all of these rules come with a price, for an age group that's incredibly self-conscious about their looks constantly scrolling through photos that are more like glammed up fashion shoots than snapshots from middle school can make being 13 even harder.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I definitely feel pressure to look perfect on Instagram. What goes through my mind as I'm posting a picture of myself, I'm thinking, you know, what will people think of this? Are they going to approve? Are they going to think I'm ugly? Are they going to think I'm pretty? I'm thinking all these things and I'm comparing myself to others.
COOPER: And those anxious feelings, comparing themselves to others and the constant need to check their status, leads a lot of parents to ask a simple and troubling question, is my child addicted to their phone? Addicted to social media? Our study found it does have some of the hallmarks of clinical addiction. For example, what some kids said about losing phone privileges sounds a lot like an addict suffering from withdrawal.
GIA: I literally feel like I'm going to die. I'd rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away. It's really bad.
KYLA: I get my phone taken away, I feel kind of naked. I do feel empty without my phone.
GABBY: I hate whenever I get my phone taken away. It is, like, the worst thing you could ever do to me. Ugh, it makes me so mad. I just want to rip my hair out.
COOPER: 57 percent of kids in this study said they'd rather be grounded than lose their phone, meaning if they had to choose, they'd rather be cut off from the real world than the cyber world.
FARIS: We see a lot of evidence of -- if not outright addiction to social media, a heavy dependence on it and almost a compulsive need to be checking social media. We have very high rates of kids being anxious, worried, missing out on what their friends are doing online. Beyond that, i think they're addicted to the image of themselves that they see reflected in the eyes of their peers.
COOPER: The majority of parents said they tried to control their kids' social media use. But our study found they have limited success. What's more, parents were way out of touch with what their kids were feeling. About 60 percent underestimated how lonely, worried, and depressed their kids were. 94 percent underestimated the amount of fighting happening on social media.
FARIS: And I think what's going on here are two things. One is that the language of social media, the subtleties of exclusion and social combat are indecipherable for parents. The other thing that's going on is that kids by and large don't talk about the kinds of conflicts they're experiencing because they feel like adults can't help.
COOPER: And despite that finding, the data shows something remarkably empowering for parents. Even if they feel they can't control their middle schooler's social media use, even if they don't understand a lot of what's being said online, just trying really counts.
FARIS: Just making an effort to monitor what your kids are doing online really mitigated the negative effects of their kids experiencing conflict with their peers. So parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts.
COOPER: And friends ease each other's pain, too. That's right. 13- year-olds stab each other in the back, but we also saw thousands of posts where they had each other's back. Posts of love and support.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I am thankful to have the most amazing best friend ever.
COOPER: Friends standing up for each other.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Don't listen to them, they're clearly jealous of you because you're an amazing person.
COOPER: And out of 150,000 posts, a lot of it is just kids being 13.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Happy birthday, you crazy chicken.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I'm in my bed listening to Beyonce. What can I say? Never a bad time to listen to Beyonce.
UNDERWOOD: Social media is positive for a lot of 13-year-olds. It's a way for them to connect with friends. It's a way for them to see what people are doing. It's a way for them to feel affirmed, supported, lifted up. There's nothing about the technology that means that it has to be bad. Unfortunately, there is the occasional hurtful comment, the occasional painful experience of exclusion that I think looms large for most of them.
COOPER: Up next, I'll talk to some of our study's most plugged in teens about how quickly a single post can change their entire reputation. And later, I'll get their parents' take on what their kids are doing online, all coming on "Being 13: Inside the Secret world of Teens."
COOPER: Welcome back to the CNN Special Report. So far, we've shown you what your kids are seeing, doing, and saying on social media. Now, some of it may have surprised you and you might have been asking yourself how can 13-year-olds act like that? We sat down with them and asked. We invited eight kids from more than 200 in our study to talk about social media and take us further into the secret lives of teens. One thing that came up in our conversation was the dangers of sexting.
MORGAN: They post private pictures of the other -- their ex. These pictures are -- well, they're naked pictures.
COOPER: So we play what morgan had to say in her video to the whole group.
MORGAN: They're sharing this stuff that was supposed to be kept private between the two, and really shouldn't have happened in the first place, but it did. And now they're spreading it.
COOPER: Does that happen? I mean do all of you know about this? That happens -- that's pretty common?
UNIDENTIFED MALE: That has happened.
ZACK: This one girl, she actually sent news to a guy, like at a different school, and it wasn't even at our school, and that guy sent it to kids at our school, and everyone saw it. Three kids got expelled. She got arrested. A couple kids got suspended. Stuff like that.
COOPER: What kind of an impact -- I mean, does that make you think about what you send out?
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Definitely.
JONATHAN: It's like a reality check. So at the time, you're not even thinking about it. And when someone else does it and they get in trouble, it's like Zack saying a girl got arrested and the other guy got expelled. It just hits you. It's like, you know what? I need to slow down and kind of retrace my steps and think.
ZACK: You can't ever recover from that, though.
CIMONE: Yeah. Like the ex-boyfriend would post something like that of that girl. He doesn't think about what that actually does to her and how much -- and how much crap she's about to get. Like if anybody from the school was to see somebody's -- like, from our school, was to see somebody that goes to our school nude, it would cause a frenzy. Like everybody will just -- yeah, everybody's going to go crazy. "Oh, yeah, I've seen it." They will just talk about you endlessly.
COOPER: Sharing nude photos is not the only way to ruin a kid's reputation. Believe it or not, just posting one bad selfie can change everything.
ZACK: Like, if you could be the most popular kid in school and post this one picture and everyone just, like, takes your life. Like your social media life. And you go from the most popular kid to the most made fun of kid.
COOPER: So things are that tenuous?
COOPER: It can change...
ZACK: It can change that quick.
CIMONE: It can.
EMMY: If you post something bad on Instagram, or any type of social media, you can just ruin your image. Because you could have so many perfect selfies, and then you have this really -- like, what? Like went from being perfect to, like, to this.
COOPER: It's also interesting because you're talking about ruining your image. You're not talking about for one day when you applied for a job, someone may see this. You're talking about how your friends are judging you.
CIMONE: Or just like talk behind your back.
EMMY: Because that's happened to so many people. It's happened to me before, happened to my friends before.
ZACK: Everyone's going to talk about you. It's really inevitable. Like, you can't -- like, everyone talks about everyone. And no one can lie about it. Like you always talk about someone. It's literally what drama is. It's what gossip is. And everyone does.
COOPER: Beyond gossip, some of the teens admitted the pressure to fit in, to be popular, makes them act like an entirely different person online. Saying and doing things they'd never do in the real world.
I've read a lot of your postings. The people you are face to face seems a lot different than the people you seem to be on social media.
JONATHAN: Yeah. That's most people. But to me, all my friends know that I'm the same either way.
COOPER: Jonathan, you think you're the same in real life as you are on social media?
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Yeah, he really is.
COOPER: Despite what he says, the affable, respectabful Jonathan in the real world seems to contradict Jonathan in the virtual world.
A couple of posts of yours, some of them pretty sexually explicit. Use a lot of profanity. Somebody posted -- somebody else posted a photo that I want to show. And you reposted it and made a comment and said "Let me hit." You posted a photo that's very graphic, I can't put on television. You said most of these bitches at Rodney Thompson middle bruh goddamn you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch.
JONATHAN: Like, no. I found that on Twitter and posted it on Instagram.
COOPER: Do you worry about some of the stuff you put out?
JONATHAN: Yeah, but at one point, I wasn't really using it. People would tell me you got to make your Instagram useful, or funny. So at one point, I was like, okay, I mean, I could try. So I took a couple days to figure out what to do and how to set it up.
COOPER: Do you worry about that? Saying let me hit it?
JONATHAN: Like, I was just playing around. I don't mess with drugs or whatever.
COOPER: Because that was one of seven weed posts. I guess, it gets to the earlier question about presenting yourself on social media as different than you are in real life.
I'm not picking on Jonathan here. Because a lot of you, and a loft the 200 kids we talked to, the way they -- the way you all talk is very different than the way you talk certainly to adults, but even just listening to you in the green room, the way you talk to each other. It seems like sometimes you adopt a persona maybe that's tougher on social media than it is in real life.
JONATHAN: OK. Every day is just about social media and how you -- and how people see you. So basically, you can be the most quietest kid in the back of the class, no friends, anything. As soon as you get home, you can go on the computer to Facebook and start doing whatever you want, and then you can have, like, 15k followers.
COOPER: 15,000 followers?
COOPER: So you can create an identity that's different than maybe who you really are.
JONATHAN: Yeah, you're like a double agent or whatever. You have one side of life and then you have another one.
COOPER: Coming up, I'll talk to our study's most plugged in teens about bullying. Later, I'll talk to their parents who say trying to keep up with their kids' social media is like chasing a runaway train. That's all coming up on "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens".
COOPER: Welcome back to this CNN Special Report. Our study found that middle schoolers use social media to both boost their own popularity status and knock other kids down the ladder. Our experts called it social combat. Most kids aren't just a bully or just a victim. They can be both. That's where we pick up my conversation.
Gia, you sent us a screen shot from your ask fm page. And it's obviously a site where a lot of kids posted comments anonymously and questions anonymously. I just want to show. It says you're annoying, and a minute later, it posted go die. Two minutes after that, you have fat thighs and no booty. A minute after that, you are f-ing ugly. A few minutes after that, holy (inaudible) you're ugly. Obviously, all of you are very attractive girls, very attractive guys. What goes through your mind when you read something like that?
GIA: Like, at that point, I think I was crying. I didn't want to tell my mom, because it's not something -- you don't want to tell your mom about that. It's kind of embarrassing. But...
COOPER: It made you cry?
GIA: Yeah. It was a lot at once.
COOPER: And yet, did you read them all? You read them all? Even though you know it's anonymous, you don't know who these people are. Why do you think you read it?
GIA: Because if one person says something, it just keeps coming. You want to know what they're saying. COOPER: Another favorite technique for social combat is what teens call a TBR. It sounds for "to be rude." if you preface the most vile insult with TBR on social media, it seems you can pretty much get away with anything.
ZACK: Thousand comments on my Instagram.
COOPER: Zack sent us a video about a TBR he orchestrated against a girl. The sniping went on for 16 hours and involved nearly a thousand comments.
ZACK: I deleted it because I knew you guys were going to be watching me. I was like, I think they're going to be a mean person. So i deleted all my to be rudes, wink, wink, don't tell my parents. It was rude. I'll admit. Whatever. She tried to cook me. I cooked her. How it works.
COOPER: So the experts who are following this did actually catch the exchange that you tried to delete.
[21:40:00] And one of the things -- a lot of the stuff we can't say on television. One of the things you posted that was directed at a girl, you said like on a serious level, you are (inaudible) about to get your ass kicked." And this went on for a long time. There was a lot of serious back and forth. And yet, at the end of it, it seemed like kind of like it was treated like a game. It's a pretty messed up game.
ZACK: It's really messed up. People are crazy.
COOPER: So you're saying people are crazy, it's messed up. I mean, you were doing it.
ZACK: Yeah, I know. I'm crazy. We're all teenagers. Teenagers do dumb things. I mean that's like one of the things our parents say like. You make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone says mean things.
COOPER: Mean things. Remember, 21 percent of teens in this study said they checked their social media so much because they wanted to make sure no one was saying mean things about them. It's another reason many of the teens we spoke to said they felt like they were addicted.
The thing I keep coming back to is just how much your generation -- the pressure you're under, and/or the pressure you feel to constantly monitor your social status, to constantly check how -- are you up, are you down, who's liking you, who's not.
ZACK: It's a stressful thing. Like this one person I know, she can't go, like, a day without her phone. She didn't have her phone that night and she didn't sleep that night. She felt like she didn't know what was going on. We have group chats and stuff. If I didn't have my phone and I knew they were in a group chat, sometimes I feel like oh, they might be talking about me and I can't defend myself to -- like you're talk about me, I want to be there so I can defend myself, like put my two cents into it.
COOPER: And that's a big concern, the idea of missing out is huge?
COOPER: Whether it's missing out on an event, missing out on what they're saying about you, what they're saying about somebody else?
MORGAN: I think just because people really want to know, like what other people are doing and what they're missing out on. But even if you're not at the place, you still want to know what's going on.
COOPER: It doesn't seem like though, that it's making you feel better knowing all this stuff.
Coming up, I'll get their parents take on all of this, including if they think their kids are addicted to social media. We asked all parents to confiscate their teens' phones the weekend before their taping, just to see how long they could go without social media. One mom was so surprised at the blowback, she grabbed her phone and recorded it.
AMY, GIA'S MOTHER: Are you crying because you can't have your phone? Gia?
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I can take pictures and send them to you.
GIA: It's not the same.
COOPER: Welcome back to "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens". Most of the parents in our study were really at a loss with how to deal with their teen's social media loss. Despite many who try to monitor their kids' feeds closely, the experts found about two thirds of parents underestimated just how lonely, worried, and depressed their kids were, and almost every single parent, 94 percent underestimated how much conflict their teen was involved in. 94 percent.
We wanted to hear from the parents of the teens you just met, so we invited them into the studio to talk and we began with an experiment to see just how hooked their kids were on their phones. We asked your kids to not use their phones for this weekend. I think only a few of them were actually able to do that. I want to show Gia's reaction when you told her not to use her phone.
AMY: Are you crying because you can't have your phone? Gia, are you crying? Are you upset you can't have your phone for three days?
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: She's recording you.
GIA: I know.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I can take pictures and send them to you.
GIA: It's not the same.
COOPER: Did her reaction surprise you?
AMY: No. That was actually a calm version. The first time I told her about that, she really cried a lot harder. It was like, wow, it's really that important to you that you can't just shut it off for a day. And so...
COOPER: Does it drive you all nuts how much they use the phone?
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: It does.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: You can just feel the life being drained from you. It just sucks it right out of you because they don't have any way of communicating with you. As soon as they take the phone away, then they actually talk to you. They tell you about their day.
COOPER: Sociologists don't use the term addiction for social media. Do you think your kids are addicted?
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Yes.
COOPER: It's universal. You don't need to think about it.
JOHN, JONATHAN'S FATHER: Jonathan got in trouble and his phone was pulled away from him for, like, two weeks.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Wow.
JOHN: He literally went into depression. His mother and I watched him every day. He moped. He didn't want to speak. His mood was foul.
UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Yeah.
JOHN: And finally, at the end of that, when he got his phone back, it was like we turned on a light switch. That's how powerful all of this is.
COOPER: Beyond worries of addiction, one of parents' biggest concerns is online predators.
GABBY: A lot of people follow me that I do not know.
COOPER: We played Gabby's video about followers she didn't know for her mom and the group.
GABBY: I just let them follow me. His user name is (inaudible) dot hot 69. Anyway.
COOPER: And she's got more than 2,300 followers, and it's interesting because she -- about a month ago, she posted a picture of herself sunning herself, whether she was aware of it or not, with the click of a button, any one of the followers can access geolocation data to know exactly where she was. Does that -- does this kind of stuff, it's got to frighten you. It's got to worry you.
AMY, GABBY'S MOTHER: Right. And I'm a parent who probably overmonitors social media. But the geographic location is something that I'm not very familiar with. And so, that is pretty terrifying.
COOPER: Yeah, you can turn it off. That's got to be one of the things. Just keeping up with the technology has got to be so worrying.
KATHY, ZACK'S MOTHER: I've asked him too, do you know all your followers? Of course not. Because yes, the more followers you have, again, the status. It looks good.
COOPER: The need for status or popularity was something these parents were very aware of. The lengths that some of their teens were going to achieve it, that was a surprise.
It does seem like a lot of kids are posting stuff that they think will kind of boost their social status but it's not really who they are.
[21:50:07] And Jonathan is an example of that. I mean he referenced marijuana like seven times and said at one point we can't show the graphic of a picture but he said "Most of these bitches at Rodney Thompson Middle Bruh, goddamn you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch." And that's actually kind of one of the tamer parts of it.
And again, that's not any different than what a lot of the kids are saying out there. So I'm not zeroing on him. But when I asked him about it, I mean he's basically said, it's about kind of adopting a persona that's not necessarily -- he's not saying this in real life. Do you monitor Jonathan's postings a lot? Do you worry about them?
JOHN: I would say like any parent, I don't monitor him as much or as deeply as I would want to. Those type of things would -- I would find distressing coming from my son.
COOPER: And what's interesting is to me that's not as certainly as Jonathan I just met.
JOHN: No. COOPER: And it's not the Jonathan you know.
JOHN: It's not the Jonathan that I would have conveyed to you.
JOHN: So that's something that definitely raises my eyebrow and you probably catch that on camera later too. But yeah, that's where -- that causes concern.
COOPER: And that's not all to be concerned about. Many teens use social media to cry for help, when they're lonely, when they're sad, when they're angry.
Cimone puts a lot out on social media. I just want to put up -- want to show you some of the things she posted. "I need one good thing i could tell everything to. I don't have no type of friends. I really hate this school. I want to choke that girl and sling her across a bridge." She also said, "It really gets to a (inaudible) point where i want to burn bodies." Does it surprise you to see that on social media?
EBONI, CIMONE'S MOTHER: Yes, but I can understand her frustration. We moved a lot. We're the third family. I was going to live her, her father's going to move here. So moving around a lot. She's only had maybe one or two years with friends and then we're moving again. So, then you are learning somebody new and the school is new and the area is new. So you get to the point where people don't understand you.
COOPER: Sometimes being 13 it feels like no one understands you. And that's where good parents like Cimone's mom really make a difference. Just a note, I've done a lot of reporting over the past few years about kids who commit suicide after being bullied online. And that's why our team of child development experts we were working with examined all 150,000 posts.
We had a plan in place to notify parents and schools if they saw any red flags for suicide risks. Thankfully, that didn't happen. Coming up next, I'll sit down with experts who can help both teens and parents understand just how to navigate this brave new world of social media.
COOPER: Welcome back. This is the first generation of kids to grow up on social media and you heard some of their parents talk about the frustration they feel trying to raise their plugged in teens. So we wanted to give the families some practical information what to worry about, what to let go, and how to use social media to deepen their relationship for their kids. We turned to Dr. Underwood and Dr. Faris for some answers.
Knowing -- you say it's not social media that kids are addicted to. It's -- they're addicted to each other. Explain that. UNDERWOOD: I think they're addicted to the peer connection and affirmation they are able to get via social media. So it's not the screens, it's not the devices, it's the access that social media gives them to each other to know what each other are doing, to know where they stand, to know how many people like what they posted, to know how many followed them today and unfollowed them. So it's the peer connection, the affirmation and reinforcement that I think is highly addictive.
COOPER: The -- your report compares social media kind of rocket fuel for teens that it accelerates. Can you explain what that means?
FARIS: Yeah. So it's highly combustible and flammable and it accelerates the degree to which kids form their own self image and have feedback from peers that strongly influence what they think -- how they think about themselves. And I think that's a lot of what they're addicted to is -- they're addicted to each other but they're also really addicted to the image of themselves a reflected in the eyes of their peers. And so, it's really about figuring out who they are. And I think these platforms really speed that process up in a way that's truly new.
UNDERWOOD: There's another phenomenon that people have written about since the 1960's called "The Imaginary Audience". Adolescents walk around believing everyone is scrutinizing their every move. Well, this is the imaginary audience come to life.
COOPER: So what's the message for parents who are watching this? What kind of parent do?
UNDERWOOD: I think two things are really important for parents. I mean first of all, I think we need to talk with our children about their online lives and what social media platforms they're using. And if we see them just frantically tied to their phones something's going on. Say, "Hey, what's going on? Is there something wrong is there some kind of a problem?" We need to get them talking to us about what they're doing online and that should start really early as soon as they get on these platforms.
The other thing that I really believe parents should do is sign up for the services themselves. They need to understand how they work so that they'll know more about the impact on their children. I also believe that they should be their children's Twitter followers, Facebook friends.
COOPER: So bottom line, for parents, sign up, know what the sites are, know what the kids are doing and have ongoing conversations with them about it.
UNDERWOOD: Talk to them. I mean...
UNDERWOOD: ... kind of helped them navigate the digital streets.
FARIS: Encourage them not to try to keep score. Don't sweat the small stuff. Don't worry if you're not tagged. You know, don't count likes. Just, you know, don't exclude other people. Yeah, there's a lot of things that could make social media a little healthier for kids.
UNDERWOOD: I think parents can just help kids help kids remember that it's possible to have fun in other ways, that there are other things that are important and interesting. And, you know, just use the strength of your relationship with your child to get them away from it periodically not as punishment, not by ripping it out of their hands but -- and just remind them, if it is making you feel bad you can put it down for a while.
COOPER: I got to say I'm glad I'm not 13 and I'm glad I don't have a 13-year-old right now. I mean it's a lot of -- there's a lot out there that parents have to keep in mind. Well, thank you, both. This is fascinating.
FARIS: Thank you.
COOPER: That's it for the CNN Special Report "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens". If you want to learn more about our study, you can go to CNN.com\Being13.
[22:00:03] I'm Anderson Cooper. Good night.