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Teen Social Interactions and Well-being during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Charlene Marie Kalenkoski and Sabrina Wulff Pabilonia


Adolescence is an important developmental period when teens begin spending less time with their parents and more time with friends and others outside their households as they transition into adulthood.  Using the 2017–2021 American Time Use Surveys and the 2012, 2013, and 2021 Well-being Modules, we examine how the time teens spent alone and with parents, friends, and others changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, shedding light on how the social isolation of the pandemic disrupted this crucial development period.  We also examine how time spent on various activities and where those activities took place changed during the pandemic, including the large shift to online schooling and reduction in overall time spent in class.  We find that teens spent more time alone and had more leisure time during the pandemic than before, and boys spent less of their leisure time with friends.  Boys saw large increases in time spent gaming and on social media, while girls increased time on social media and watching TV.  We also find that socializing and communicating with others is associated with greater well-being for teens compared with other activities.  These results together suggest that teens’ well-being was lower during the pandemic than before.