“Don’t break our snap streak!” “It’s lit.” “Bye Felicia.”
If you don’t understand what these phrases mean, don’t worry: they’re just a few of the conversations you might overhear from your tween or teen these days that make absolutely no sense to you. With more than 90% of teenagers using the internet and more than 73% on a social network (www.toptenreviews.com), kids are more social media savvy than ever, while parents are left scratching their heads.
According to research firm Piper Jaffray’s survey of 6,500 U.S. teens (http://usat.ly/1qrtYy4) about their social media habits, 28% of teens stated Snapchat is the most important social network. Instagram came in second at 27%, followed by Twitter at 18%, Facebook at 17%, and Tumblr at 2%.
Tom Zarecki, a professor of marketing and radio broadcasting at Western Connecticut State University, incorporates social media into all of his classes. With decades of radio experience, Zarecki explains the similarities between the two: “Radio is the original social media…It’s meant to attract your attention. Social media is your own radio station, building a group of people based on what you are leaning toward, finding people in the same circles.”
Snapchat: “The Vanishing App”
Currently, Snapchat is finding these circles among teens with its ease of use, creative filters, and secretive nature. Snapchat opens into camera mode for you to snap a picture or record a video that you send to individual friends or post on your “story” for 24 hours. After you hit send, the picture/video seems to magically disappear. However, your friends can screenshot the snap and save it onto their phone.
You can add many features to your snap including dog ears, flower crowns, emojis, text, and location. Users can also message via the app. Most recently, snap streaks have been popular among the young generation where Snapchat tracks how many days in a row you “snap” a friend.
Instagram: “The ‘Pictures and More’ App”
Instagram is arguably as popular as Snapchat: “Young people don’t talk about Facebook anymore,” Zarecki said. “Far more of them talk about Instagram or Snapchat.”
To garner more fans, Instagram has followed in some of Snapchat’s footsteps, incorporating the story idea in which users can post videos for 24 hours. Instagram’s focus is the timeline of photos/short videos. Users can post pics/videos with captions, tag their friends (so the friend is notified), and use hashtags to categorize the pic.
Twitter: “The Listening App”
On Twitter, users post their thoughts (tweets), share pictures or links to articles/websites, or share tweets by others (retweet). Twitter is a hit in Hollywood, allowing teens to interact with celebrities by commenting on their tweets, tagging them in posts, etc. News and twitter go hand in hand, as well, as revealed by the latest presidential election.
As explained by Zarecki, this is a forum where users can be passive and read content without producing their own. “When people say, they don’t do twitter, I explain that you don’t actually have to speak,” he explains. “You spend your time listening.”
Facebook: “The App Here for the Long Haul”
First created for college students, Facebook has evolved to reach all generations. Facebook allows users to post pictures, status updates, and videos. Many younger people may be on Facebook, but they never mention it because it is not as cool as it once was.
“People feel Facebook is on the way out,” Zarecki says. “It was originally big with young people, but now their grandparents are on it. You see them on there and you can’t convince yourself it’s as hip.”
Tumblr has been around for a while, but has never gained much popularity. Here, teens create mini blog posts and can follow users’ blogs, similar to Pinterest and Instagram.
Zarecki also mentions a social media site that’s not popular among teens but should be on their radar: “As for LinkedIn, most teens say it’s boring. What’s happening is that companies on LinkedIn can get access to users and see who is actually on their profile. Teens can explore their ultimate dream job and see what businesses are using for social media and follow them there.”
Since no rule book for social media and teens exist, it’s up to parents to know the social media out there, what apps their kids are on, and if they’re safe. With Snapchat and Instagram in the lead for the most popular social media, parents have to pay special attention to what happens on their kids’ smartphones.
“It’s OK to regularly question and ask what social media they are on,” Zarecki comments. “It’s your job as a parent to be probing. It’s a whole other area of responsibility. Parents are still in charge until kids are 18.”
Teens often don’t realize that once something — including inappropriate or private content — is posted on social media, including Snapchat, it’s there forever. As a parent, watch over your kids to ensure they know the consequences when posting.
According to Zarecki, standards are needed: “You need to make up rules based on what’s appropriate. Rules change and they have to be fluid.”
Parents should also remind their kids of the negativity and cyberbullying that can exist on all social media. Any forum that brings together people is potentially a platform where someone could get hurt.
“There’s the importance of controlled dialogue on any social media site,” Zarecki says. “One person posts, and people comment and people’s emotions come out a lot more on social media than in person.”
There’s not a one-size-fits-all response to each of these social media sites, cell phone usage, and how to keep teens safe online. It’s up to parents to stay alert and keep a vested interest in teens’ social media habits, as they might with any other aspect of raising their kids.
“All social media is in the prototype phase, ready to be knocked off by someone who does it better, stronger, and hipper,” Zarecki concludes. “There will be other [social media], probably two dozen more social platforms. In five years, it won’t be the same.”