Keeping track of teens’ social circles used to be easy. Whoever they were friends with at school, plus teachers, family, and neighbors made up the entire circle. There might have been a pen-pal thrown in there, but for the most part, parents knew everyone their children knew. And, if a teen made a new friend their parents simply called their new friend’s parents and introduced themselves. Easy as pie.
However, in today’s virtual world, it’s a lot harder to pinpoint a teen’s inner circle. With the explosion of social media apps, teens are doing a lot of communicating on their phones and using apps that perplex most parents.
If you want to better understand what your teens are doing on popular social media, take a look:
Let’s start with the social media that most parents can relate to: Facebook. Facebook is, at its core, a microblogging site where users can share snippets of their life in the form of text, image, and video. Teens remain a large user group on Facebook but because of the aforementioned fact that most parents understand and frequent it, teens aren’t so thrilled about using Facebook anymore.
Facebook has become more of a required communication tool than a place to hang out. Built-in features like messaging and groups make it a useful tool for school groups to communicate with members. So, for many teens, having a Facebook account is more of a requirement than a desire.
Even so, teens continue to use Facebook to catch up with friends and family and stay in the loop. However, because Facebook is a more public arena that includes parents and other family members, teens aren’t sharing a lot of personal information. For a more private social media experience, teens have moved on to newer apps.
Many parents find Snapchat the most esoteric social media of any of the platforms. Snapchat is over in its own little world with its own set of rules and social guidelines. The appeal of Snapchat is that content disappears which makes it a more spontaneous form of expression.
With Snapchat, teens can post photo and video snaps for all to see or send snaps in private messages. Teens also enjoy maintaining streaks, which are messages sent over consecutive days. Users must reply within 24 hours to maintain the streak.
These spontaneous, disappearing snaps can be a cause for concern, though. It’s not uncommon to hear Snapchat called the sexting app, or hear about it being used as a tool for bullies and popularity contests. It’s important for parents to understand how their teens are using the social network and have open and honest conversations surrounding their concerns.
Twitter began as a strictly text based way of adding pithy comments to the social media universe. Users only have 140 characters to communicate their thoughts. Twitter has since added the ability to post images and videos, making it more similar to Facebook.
According to Danah Boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, teens are keeping their Twitter circle very small compared to their circle on Facebook. Teenagers tend to be private by nature so it’s no surprise that they extend that privacy to their social media accounts.
Teens spend most of their time on Twitter reading about and responding to their favorite celebrities and sharing their lives with their very tight inner circle. The direct messaging feature gives them an opportunity to converse with people that may be strictly internet acquaintances, so keeping an eye on that is worth a parent’s time.
YouTube is a self-broadcasting platform where users can create their own channels. Followers are called Subscribers and videos can rack up likes and comments similar to other social media networks.
YouTube is a different social media animal than other microblogging sites like Facebook and Twitter. The only way YouTubers can post content is through video – making this medium more time consuming. Teens can create their own channels and upload original video on any topic that they are interested in.
If teens don’t have their own channel then most time on YouTube is spent watching and commenting on popular videos. YouTube videos can be seen without an account, but for kids who want to comment on videos, parents might want to consider monitoring the email associated with the account. It’s a simple way to discover what sorts of videos are interesting to kids and what types of conversations they might be having on the network.
Instagram allows users to become photojournalists of their own lives. The built-in filters and other photo editing capabilities primarily attract foodies and entrepreneurs. However, because it’s another place where parents are most likely not treading, teens enjoy using this medium to share and communicate with friends.
Recently, Instagram introduced Stories to compete with Snapchat. These quick photos or videos disappear after 24 hours and allow users to tag friends, family, or brands. These stories can be private or public, just like a user’s account. Parents should always be following their kids on Instagram, and checking their Stories frequently. Similarly to Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, Instagram has a private messaging option that parents might want to consider setting some rules around, too.
Tumblr is a microblogging website that’s a mash up of Pinterest and WordPress. Users write about their interests and can customize their pages to express who they are and what they like. Tumblr is a great tool for self-expression for teenagers. Writing and cataloging interests helps teens define who they are and learn more about themselves in the process.
Despite the differences in these social media platforms, the core use of these micro-publishing apps is self-expression. For a teen, who lives according to rules and peer pressure, these tools can be a breath of fresh air.
Sara Woodard-Ortiz, owner of The HeartFull Journey, is an ally for heartbroken moms who are going through separation and divorce. Her goal is to help moms love themselves during and after divorce as a way to build a foundation to attract a new, satisfying relationship. Sara lives in Danville, IL with her daughter, Olivia, and their cats, Bianca and Katniss. When Sara is not working on her business, you can find her playing Minecraft or drinking coffee at a local cafè.