Researchers, public policy officials, and the general public as a whole have long been concerned about the consequences of youth’s exposure to violence and sex in the media. Recent studies have documented the explosion of different types of media available to youth [1,2] and the widespread presence of violence in these media outlets. [3] As the Internet and other media types with violent and sexual content become increasingly prominent in the lives of today’s youth, questions have been raised regarding what impact this has on the mental health and well-being of youth.

As one of the few national surveys of teens, recent findings from the Growing up with Media study shed light on the psychosocial well-being of adolescents today. Data in the study was obtained from both youth and their parents regarding social support systems, school performance, the presence of development disorders, tendencies towards aggression, depressive symptomatology, substance use, and sexual behaviors. The resulting report provides a general overview of current youths’ mental health and problem behaviors by age and biological sex, as well as trends across time.


  • 5% of youth had symptoms similar to mild depression
  • An additional 2% had symptoms similar to major depression.
  • About three in four of these adolescents said that they interfered with their daily activities.

Developmental disorders:

Substance use:

  • Between 13-23% have had a drink of alcohol
  • 12-16% have had a cigarette
  • 5-9% have smoked marijuana
  •  2-3% have used inhallents, like whippits or smelled paint
  • 1-2% have used other drugs, such as cocaine and heroine

Findings are largely good news: Most youth feel like they have strong social support from either friends or a special person, or both. Most report doing well in school and liking school; few are suspended or expelled. Moreover, depressive symptomology, aggressive behavior, and frequent substance use are each reported by a minority of youth. Findings also serve as a call to action, however: Between 5-17% are struggling with emotional and behavioral problems. The psychosocial functioning of young people as they grow from children to adolescents is complex and changing, however, this survey does provide useful insight into youth and how they navigate adolescence. These vulnerable young people need support and possibly intervention from mental health professionals and others working for youth. More needs to be done to identify these young people and to ensure that they have access to the support and services they need.

To learn more about the results, click here to see our related Infographic.

Based on:

Korchmaros J., Prescott T., and Ybarra M. Growing up with Media: Mental health and Psychosocial Indicators. San Clemente, CA: CiPHR. April 2013.


Thank you to Nicole McCarthy and Jennifer Renzas for their contributions to this blog.

The GuwM Study was funded by a Cooperative Agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U49/CE000206; PI: Ybarra). Points of view or opinions in this bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of policies of the Centers for Disease Control. We would like to thank the entire Growing up with Media Study team: Internet Solutions for Kids, Harris Interactive, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the CDC, who contributed to the planning and implementation of the study. Finally, we thank the families for their time and willingness to participate in this study.


1. Lenhart A, Madden M, Hitlin P. Teens and technology: Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life; July 27 2005.

2. Roberts DF, Foehr UG, Rideout V. Generation M: Media in the lives of 8-18 year olds. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation;2005.

3. Wilson B, Kunkel D, Linz D, et al. Violence in television programming overall: University of California, Santa Barbara study. In: Seawall M, ed. National television violence study. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 1998:3-184.

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