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Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens. Aired 9-10p ET.

Aired October 5, 2015 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the CNN Special Report "Being 13: Inside The Secret World of Teens." I'm Anderson Cooper.

Cellphones 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 are 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 that kids say online that 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, hashtags, 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 the 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sweetie, I suggest you stop being a bitch about it.

COOPER: To threatening ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On a serious level you're about to get your ass kicked.

COOPER: Supportive messages.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're one of my best friends and I trust you with anything.

COOPER: And explicit ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Goddamn, 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 groundbreaking 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 on social media that you later regretted? What's the best thing that's happened to you on social media? How often do 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 call it lurking. And the heaviest users in the study told us they check their feeds more than 100 times a day.

UNIDENTIFIED 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 I have -- like I need to.

ZACK: I probably check my phone 90, 100, 110. Even when I'm hanging out with people, I sort of check my phone a lot because me -- the one thing I want to do is miss out on something.

GABBY: I think I've checked it about 100 times at school before. Like, I'll just whip it out in the middle of class and I'm like, I'm wondering 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...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to make sure no one is saying mean things about me.

COOPER: 36 percent say...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to see if my friends are doing things without me.

COOPER: And 61 percent say...

UNIDENTIFIED 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 so you still always worry.

[21:05:00] COOPER: Clinical psychologist, Dr. Marion Underwood is the co-author of the study.

MARION UNDERWOOD, CHILD CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGISTS: It is stressful to constantly being monitoring and 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 are 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 that it was actually bullying or social aggression that did the trick. Sometimes the aggression is hidden or covert and sometimes it's right there in your face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go die. Stop trying to be popular. Holy f***, you're ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awwh, boy, we about to come for ya life. Mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It really get to f***ing 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 in face -- on face-to-face, like 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'll lose and I don't like losing.

COOPER: Some even had horror stories of friends cyberbullied through fake social media accounts. JAY: One Instagram page, they made a fake account and they just scrolled through every single I have photos and commented something rude. No human should be able to say such rude things to someone, especially behind a screen where they're being cowards.

COOPER: Direct aggression hurts but covert aggression, according to our experts, can hurt even deeper. Our study found that sites like Instagram and Twitter are the new frontlines in this hidden warfare and parents hardly ever recognize the weapons. Some attacks are cleverly cloaked through which called subtweeting.

SELAM: A subtweet 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 are referring to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so done trying to get along with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really want to choke that girl and sling her across a 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 friend on a photo. Take a group photo on Instagram. Everyone likes look 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 often many of those same kids that retaliate, more than a third in this study admitted they purposely exclude others as well.

UNDERWOOD: It's a really powerful form of aggression because it's so subtle that it's considered bad form to response. So lots of kids have experienced 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 click. Their biggest source of pain is from those closest to them. 360's other expert sociologist, Dr. Robert Faris calls all of this social combat.

ROBERT FARIS, 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.

[21:10:13] 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 cyberworld no longer exists for kids in middle school.

You heard that right, the line between the real world and cyberworld 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 form, 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, especially considering these kids are only 13 years old.

GABBY: I always tell them, I'm like if you send me a dick pick, I will slice it off.

COOPER: This 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 is this wiener and I was like, "Mom!"

COOPER: 15 percent of middle schoolers admitted they received inappropriate photos, the damage lasts long after the photo was deleted. These kids were almost 50 percent more distressed than others in the study.

[21:15:00] 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: Well, what they like to call it is exposing. It's either like an ex-girlfriend or an ex-boyfriend. And what they do is they post naked pictures and nudes of the person. And sharing the 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. I -- unfortunately, I think they are 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 warn 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).hot69. 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 is actually a lot of people I have no idea who they are, but I just let them follow me because the more, the merrier.

COOPER: And Gabby, like many middle schoolers in the 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 at 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 past time for America's teens and there are rules, lots and lots of them.

SELAM: Do you feel confident? Is the outfit amazing or do you feel really pretty or on point that day?

GIA: Add these different faces like duck face or smiling.

ZACK: Sometimes you share like this, sometimes like this, whatever.

CATHERINE: I specialize in this. I like 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 yourself look as best as 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'm like really can't get the 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 and snapshots from middle school can make being 13 even harder.

UNIDENTIFIED 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, like 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 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 sounded a lot like an addict suffering from withdrawal.

[21:20:00] 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: When I get my phone taken away, I feel kind of naked. I do feel like kind of like empty without my phone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hate whenever I get my phone taken away. It is like the worst thing you could ever do to me. 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, heavy dependence on it and almost a compulsive need to be checking social media. We have very high rates of kids being anxious or worried if they're 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 try to control their kids' social media use. But our study found they have limited success, which more parents were way out of touch with what their kids were feeling. About 60 percent underestimated how lonely or really in depressed their kids were and we have 94 percent underestimated the amount of fighting happening on social media.

FARIS: And I think what's going on here is -- 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 schoolers' 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. And so parent monitoring effectively erase 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am thankful to have the most amazing best friend ever.

COOPER: Friend standing up for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't listen to them. They are 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy birthday you crazy chicken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm in my bed listening to Beyonce. What can I say? Never a bad time to listen to 'yonce.

UNDERWOOD: Social media is positive for a lot of 13-year-olds. It's a way for 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 an exclusion that I think looms large for most of them.

COOPER: Up next, I'll talk to some of our studies most plugged in teens about how quickly a single post can change their entire reputation. Later, I'll get their parents take on what their kids are doing online all coming up on "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens."


[21:26:58] 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 they have surprised you and you might have been asking yourself, how can 13-year-olds act like that? Well, 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 are naked pictures.

COOPER: So we played 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? This -- that happens pretty -- that's pretty common.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, that is happening.

ZACK: Yeah, definitely (inaudible). Yes, one girl she actually sent nudes to a guy like at a different school, and it wasn't even at our school and then that guy sent it to kids at our school and then everyone saw it like, three kids got expelled, she got arrested. A couple kids got suspended, referrals, stuff like that.

COOPER: What kind of an impact does that? I mean, does that make you think about what you send out?



JONATHAN: It's like -- just like a reality check. So you -- at the time, you're not even thinking about it and then when someone else does it and get in trouble, like Zack saying, a girl got arrested and the other guys got expelled, it's kind of reality check. It just hits you and you're just 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, OKLAHOMA: 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 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 nudes, it would cause a frenzy, like everybody just -- yeah, everybody is going to go crazy. Oh yeah, I see -- like they'll 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 like the most popular kid in school and post this one picture and everyone just like takes your life, like your social media life, how everyone you think and you go from the most popular kid to the most made fun of kid.

COOPER: So things are that tenuous, it can change...

ZACK: Yes, it can change that quick.

EMMY: If you post something bad on Instagram or any type of social media, you can just ruin how you -- like your image. Like, because you could have like so many perfect selfies and then you have this really like, what? Like that and went from being perfect to like to this.

COOPER: It's also interesting because you're talking about ruin your image. You're not talking about, you know, for one day when you applied for a job someone may see this, you're talking about how your friends are judging you.

[21:30:06] EMMY: Or just like talk behind your back because that happened to so many people. It happened to me before, it happened to my friends before.

ZACK: Everyone is going to talk about you, it's not -- it's really inevitable like you can't -- like everyone talks about everyone and like no one can lie about it like you always talk about someone. And that'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. Do you think that's them?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It depends on the person.

JONATHAN: Like that's most people but to me like 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 in social media.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, he really is.

COOPER: Despite what he says, the (uppable), respectful Jonathan in the real world seems to totally contradict Jonathan in the virtual world.

A couple posts of yours that some of them were pretty sexually explicit, used a lot of profanity. Somebody posted -- somebody else posted a photo that I want to show and you reposted and made a comment and said "Let me hit." You posted a photo that's very graphic that I can't put on television and you said "Most of these bitches at Rodney Thompson middle bruh goddamn you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch, you dirty bitch."

JONATHAN: Oh I found that, you know, like in other peoples...


JONATHAN: ...on Twitter. I found that on there and I posted on my Instagram.

COOPER: Yeah. Do you worry about some of the stuff you put out or...

JONATHAN: Like, yeah, but at one point, I wasn't really using it and people would tell me, you know, you got to make your Instagram like useful or funny, so at one point I was like OK, I mean I could try. So I took like a couple days to figure out what to do and how to set it up.

COOPER: Do you worry about that, you know, I mean, saying let me hit it.

JONATHAN: Look, I got -- was just playing around. I don't mess with drugs or whatever.

COOPER: And that was one of seven weed posts.


COOPER: So I mean, I guess it gets to the earlier question about presenting yourself on social media is different than you are in real life. I'm not picking on Jonathan here because a lot of you and a lot of the 200 kids we talked to, the way they -- the way you all talk is very different than the way you talk other 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 the persona maybe that's tougher on social media than it is in real life.



JONATHAN: If -- all -- everyday 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: Just like you're a double -- like for example 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 studies 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."


[21:37:16] COOPER: Welcome back to the CNN Special Report "Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens."

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 call it social combat. See most kids aren't just a bully or just a victim, they can be both. That's where we pick up my conversation.

COOPER: Gia, you sent us a screenshot of -- from your "Ask FM Page" and it's obviously a site where a lot of kids post comments anonymously and questions anonymously. And I just want to show it. It says, "You're annoying." And then a minute later somebody 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."

Now, obviously all of you are very attractive girls, very attractive guys. What goes through your mind when you read something like that?

GIA, VIRGINIA: Like, at that point I think I was crying, like I didn't want to tell my mom because it's just like not something -- you don't want to tell your mom about that like it's kind of like embarrassing but...

COOPER: It made you cry?

GIA: Yeah. It -- because that's a lot at once. COOPER: And yet, you -- did you read them all? You did? 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 and then it just keeps coming, like you want to know what they are saying.

COOPER: Another favorite technique for social combat is what teens call a TBR., it stands for to be rude. If you preface even the most vial 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 1,000 comments.

ZACK: I deleted it because I knew you guys were going to be watching me on and so you'll think I'm a mean person so I deleted all my "To Be Rudes", wink, wink, don't tell my parents. It was rude I'll admit. It was really -- it was rude. 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. 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) bouta get your ass kicked. And this went on for a long time and it's a pretty serious -- and there's a lot of serious back and forth and yet, at the end of it, it would seem like kind of like it was treated like a game.

ZACK: Mm-hm.

COOPER: It's a pretty messed up game.

ZACK: It's really messed up. People get -- people are crazy.

[21:40:02] COOPER: Not to let you off the hook so easily. You're saying people are crazy, it's messed up. I mean, you were doing it.

ZACK: Yeah, I know. I'm crazy. I'm (unintelligible), all teenagers. Teenagers do dumb things, I mean, that's like one of the things our parent says like you make mistakes, and like everyone makes mistakes, everyone says mean things.

COOPER: Mean things. Remember 21 percent of teens in this study said they check 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 how much your generation, the pressure you're under 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 like that night and she didn't sleep that night. She felt like she didn't know what was going on. Like we had group chats and stuff and if that -- like if I was ugly, if I didn't have my phone and I knew they were texting me on a group chat, sometimes I feel like they might be talking about me and I can't defend myself to, like you're talking about me, I want to be there so, I can defend myself and say 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 somebody else.

ZACK: Yeah.

MORGAN: I think just because people really want to know like what other people are doing and what they're missing out on. But like even if you're not at the place, you still want to know what's going on.

COOPER: It doesn't seem like those and it's making you feel better knowing this stuff.


COOPER: Coming up, I'll get their parents take and all of this, including if they think their kids are addicted to social media. We asked all parents to confiscate their teen's phones the weekend before taping just to see how long they can go without social media. One mom was so surprised the blowback, she grabbed her phone and recorded it.

AMY, GIA'S MOTHER: Are you crying because you can't have your phone?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. I can take pictures and send them to you.

GIA: It's not the same.


[21:45:57] 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 use despite many who try to monitor their feeds closely. The experts found that 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 -- I know 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, look it -- are you crying? Are you upset you can't have your phone for three days?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's recording you.

GIA: I know.

AMY: Gia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can take pictures and send them to you.

GIA: It's not the same.

COOPER: Did her -- Amy, did her reaction surprise you?

AMY: No, that was actually a calm version. The first time that I told her about that, she really cried a lot harder. That was like wow, it's really that important to you that you can't shut it off for, you know, a day and so.

COOPER: Does it drive you all nuts how much they use the phone?

AMY: It does.

CATHERINE, EMMY'S MOTHER: You can just feel the life being drained from you, sucks it right out of you because they don't have a way of communicating with you, so you take the phone away, then they actually talk to you. They tell you about their day. They tell you about what they've done, or what's going on.

COOPER: Sociologist I don't use the term addiction for a person. Do you think your kids are addicted?






COOPER: That's universal, didn't even have to think about it.

JOHN, JONATHAN'S FATHER: Jonathan got in trouble and his phone was pulled away from him for like two weeks. 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.

COOPER: Interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED 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. So 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).hot69. Anyway.

COOPER: And she's got more than 2300 followers and it's interesting because she -- about a month ago, she posted a picture of herself sunning herself, whether she was aware or not, with a click of a button, anyone of the followers could access geolocation data to know exactly where she was. Does that -- this kind of stuff -- it's got to frighten you, it's going to worry you?

AMY, GABBY'S MOTHER: Right. And I'm a parent who probably overmonitors, you know, 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. It's a thing you can actually easily turn off. But that's going 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 them, 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. And Jonathan is an example of that. I mean, he referenced marijuana like seven times.

[21:50:04] He said at one point about -- we can't actually 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 kids are saying out there, so I'm not zeroing in on him. But when I asked him about it, and he basically said, it's about kind of adopting a persona that's not necessarily -- he's not going around 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. They're not -- those types of things would -- I would find distressing coming from my son.

COOPER: And what's interesting is, to me, that's not -- certainly not the Jonathan I just met.


COOPER: And that's you do?

JOHN: It's not the Jonathan that I would have conveyed to you.

COOPER: Right.

JOHN: So that's something that definitely raises my eyebrow and you'll 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 of -- a lot out on social media. I just want to put out -- show you some of what some of the things that she posted. She said, "I just need one good friend I could tell everything to." At a later day she posted, "I don't have no type of friends," "I really hate this school." She also posted, "I really want to choke that girl, sling her cross a bridge." She also said, "It really gets to (inaudible) point where I just want to burn bodies." Does it surprise you to see her putting that out on social media?

EBONI, CIMONE'S MOTHER: Yes. But I can understand her frustration. We moved a lot, a military family. I was in military and her father was in military. 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're learning somebody new, the school is new, the friends are new, the area is new. So, you get to a 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 immediately 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.


[21:56:33] COOPER: Welcome back. This is the first generation of kids who grow up on social media. And you just heard some of their parents talk about the frustration they feel trying to raise their plugged in teens.

So we wanted to give families some practical information, what to worry about, what to let go and how to use social media to deepen their relationships with their kids. We turned to Dr. Underwood and Dr. Faris for some answers.

Marion 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 that they're able to get via social media. So it's not the screens, it's not the devices, it's the access that social media it 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 many people followed them today and unfollowed them.

So it's the peer connection, the affirmation and the reinforcement that I think is highly addictive.

COOPER: Your report compares social media kind of rocket fuel for teens that it accelerate. 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, have feedback from peers that strongly inform 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 as it is reflected in the eyes of their peers. And so it's really about figuring out who they are. And I think this platform, 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 1960s 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 can a 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 franticly tied to their phones, something is going on, say hey, what's going on? Is something wrong? Is there some kind of 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 these 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 these sites

are, know what your kids are doing and have ongoing conversations with them about it.

UNDERWOOD: Talk to them. I mean, kind of help them navigate the digital street.

FARIS: And encourage them not to try and keep score. You know, don't split 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, you know, there's a lot of things that could make social media a little healthier for kids.

UNDERWOOD: And I think parents can just 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 reaping it out of their hands. And just remind them if it's making you feel bad, you can just 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 that to keep in mind.

Well, thank you both, this is really 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\being13. I'm Anderson Cooper. Goodnight.