Like adults, many teens in today’s world spend a seemingly infinite amount of time on social media. They constantly check their phones to see what is going on or what they may be missing; as is often discussed, this ubiquitous exposure to social media is having a significant impact on the manner in which they socialize with others.
New research is showing, though, that adolescents may be migrating from the sites where they have typically congregated to others, for a variety of reasons; this may also be affecting them, but in different ways. A recent piece from Quartz.com, “Teens Have a Smart Reason for Abandoning Facebook and Twitter” by Felicity Duncan, outlines why students are moving to apps like Snapchat or why they are continually checking group texts. As Duncan discusses, teens are opting to communicate via more private and intimate sites rather than on more public or open spaces.
As the article states, “For example, in a study published in August last year, the Pew Research Center reported that 49% of smartphone owners between 18 and 29 use messaging apps like Kik, Whatsapp, or iMessage, and 41% use apps that automatically delete sent messages, like Snapchat. For context, note that according to another Pew study, only 37% of people in that age range use Pinterest, only 22% use LinkedIn, and only 32% use Twitter. Messaging clearly trumps these more publicly accessible forms of social media.”
Duncan explains that adolescents are changing their usage for a variety of reasons. As Facebook has become more popular among older people, it ipso facto loses cache among teens as a place to rebel or share things that their parents or grandparents might see. Similarly, students are aware, thankfully, that colleges and employers are checking Facebook and Twitter, and that what they post with little thought to repercussions down the road might return to haunt them later.
Interestingly, the article points out that this change in the method for communicating on social media may bring benefits as well as problems. On the one hand, adolescents are becoming more savvy and more thoughtful about the things they post online. On the other hand, for parents who use these sites to discreetly learn what’s going on in their children’s lives, this may no longer be an option. In addition, Facebook has provided a venue for certain awareness-raising campaigns and social activism opportunities for high school or college-age people; if young women and men no longer use these sites, their level of activism may decrease. There are other potential repercussions that the article mentions in terms of a problem for businesses, but my concern here is how the different ways adolescents are choosing to communicate with each other may be affecting their social relationships.
So, as parents and as educators, what are we to do? We need to be current on the latest technological trends for teens, while remembering that just as when we were younger, our children will always be one step ahead of us. Consequently, we need to teach them how to use technology in a way that supports healthy relationships and enables them to be people of integrity. Ultimately, we need to help them develop a sense of self and of right and wrong, so they can become ethical citizens in all areas of their lives, including cyberspace.