Top Teen Social Media Apps and Websites
Seeing your teen glued to her smartphone probably isn’t anything new, but it may make you wonder what, exactly, she’s doing on there all the time.
Of course, you can’t help your teen if you don’t know the ins and outs of the social media platforms she uses. That’s why Laura Tierney, founder and president of The Social Institute in Durham, says parents should equip themselves with skills to help their kids navigate the digital world.
In a fall 2017 survey of 840 students, The Social Institute identified apps and websites most frequently used by teens during a typical week. Here are explanations of what these apps and sites are, as well as tips for how to help your teen protect her image online and manage peer pressure associated with social media.
Email and Texting Apps
Teens use email and texting apps, such as GroupMe or Tango, to share messages, pictures and videos with each other. They often join multiple conversations via group texts with other teens.
Pros: Teens can easily connect with and send messages to friends, making them feel closer to their peers.
Cons: Group texts can serve as a breeding ground for bashing or bullying, Tierney explains, because it provides a digital space where kids may give in to peer pressure and talk negatively about other students, adults, teachers or coaches. Tierney encourages parents to teach their children to say something thoughtful when the bashing or bullying occurs in an effort to change the conversation, or to leave the chat altogether if the tone becomes hostile.
Instagram helps users connect through pictures and videos. Different filters enhance a photo’s quality and appearance in a few easy clicks.
Pros: Kids share moments with their friends via photos. Posts that everyone can relate to and will approve of typically garner the most “likes.”
Cons: Additional apps and filters can dramatically change the look of any Instagram photo to alter a user’s appearance. Also, when teens “like” photos or videos on their friends’ Instagram accounts, this increases the chance that their friends will “like” one of theirs in return. This is important to teens because they view Instagram as an extension of their identity. Consequently, many teens curate their “likes” and “dislikes” and will delete photos that don’t get enough likes.
This app allows users to send photos and videos, called “snaps,” to their followers. Snapchat offers teens the option to express their snaps creatively by attaching fun filters to photos and videos.
Pros: The content teens share with their followers isn’t stored on their device and therefore doesn’t eat up storage. Many Snapchat users also start “Snapstreaks” with each other, which means they have “snapped” each other by sending photos (not messages) within 24 hours for more than three consecutive days.
Cons: Just because snaps aren’t stored on a teen’s device doesn’t mean those photos and videos vanish into thin air. When it comes to Snapchat, teens are more likely to share media they “absolutely want to disappear,” Tierney says. However, she explains, third-party apps allow users to download the sender’s content without him or her knowing — a fact, she says, the majority of kids she speaks to are unaware of. Snaps can also be captured via screenshot, although the person who sends the snap is made aware of this when it happens. Also, many teens feel pressured to keep Snapstreaks going, since they will expire unless both Snapchatters send a photo snap back and forth to each other within a 24-hour window.
You can learn almost anything while browsing this social media platform, which works much like an interactive encyclopedia, Tierney says.
Pros: Teens love sharing funny stories, personal conversations, inspirational content and how-to videos with viewers.
Cons: Once one video ends, the next begins. For many users, sexual content isn’t far away. Before you let your teen create his own public YouTube channel, Tierney says, have him practice on a shared parental account. Even if your child has a YouTube account that is public, you can disable the comment section.
Twitter allows users to quickly share and spread news stories, ideas, pictures and short videos, accompanied by a few sentences commentary. Teens turn to Twitter for the latest headlines, and teachers often use it communicate class information.
Pros: Tierney describes Twitter as a social media platform through which users “can connect with anyone, read anything and share anything in one of the largest public settings in the world.”
Cons: Tierney also acknowledges that the minute users post a hurtful or negative tweet, it can “spread like wildfire.” She advises parents to remind their teens that everything they share on Twitter is a reflection of his or her core values and character.
Sit down with your teen and ask her to imagine that she’s the star at a national press conference, Tierney suggests. Each time she sends out a snap or post, it’s as if her words go straight into a microphone, out to the media for all to see and hear.
“As private as you think that [snap or post] might be, everything that you click ‘send’ on is going into that microphone,” Tierney warns.
Posting online only takes a second, but internet search engines save the information forever. It’s important that your teen understands the gravity of how social media can impact her life, college prospects and future job opportunities. It only takes one bad snap, post or video to create permanent damage your teen may not be able to undo.
Be sure to check out "Secret Apps Your Teen May Be Using to Hide Photos, Videos, Messages and Files" to learn more about apps teens use.
Elizabeth Kane is a writer, content strategist and music instructor. She shows parents how to steer their young musicians toward success at practiceforparents.com.