Forget Facebook: these are the social media apps teens are using

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

If you've been keeping an eye on your teen's social media use by watching their Facebook account, you might be looking in the wrong place. Teenagers have been leaving Facebook in droves, with a recent Pew study finding just 51 per cent of teens use Facebook, compared with 71 per cent just three years ago.

So while they may have an account, and occasionally post something they don't mind Grandma seeing, teens are gathering in other places online.

As my own teenager told me recently, complete with eye roll, "Nobody under 40 is on Facebook any more."

Child and adolescent psychologist Jesse Diggins says it's important for parents to know what social media their kids are using and have at least a basic understanding of how they work.

"Adolescence is a time when teens pull away from parents and invest more in social networks," he says. "The drive to be on social media is there for almost all teens. The key is to strike a balance in which teens can use social media in a supported way.

"Since teens are still developing the skills to meet the challenges they will face online, it's critical they have open communication with parents if they run into a problem. Collaborating to make an agreement between both parties is a good place to start."

So where are teens now that Facebook is so "uncool"?

Instagram

Instagram is a photo sharing app, and 70 per cent of teens say they're on there. Accounts can be set to private which can provide peace of mind, but Diggins says the recently added feature of disappearing stories makes it similar to Snapchat (see below), with some of the same dangers. Instagram offers comprehensive advice for parents of teens who are using the platform.

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YouTube

The video site is the second-largest search engine on the web after Google, with a massive 86 per cent of teens saying they use it. Diggins says YouTube does have an opt-in setting "that can help screen out potentially objectionable content". He says the benefits and dangers of YouTube vary depending on what the platform is being used for.

"I see some teens that spend hours every day watching gaming screen captures, while others use it as a research tool in conjunction with school work," he says.

Snapchat

Parents are understandably cautious about Snapchat, says Diggins, "due to the untraceable nature of most of the content", but it's popular with 67 per cent of teens. He says from his own clinical experience, Snapchat has surpassed Facebook as the predominantly used app, due to its expanded features in the past two years.

"There are some concerns around Snapchat's new feature, 'Memories'," he says. "With Memories, users can preserve content in a secure archive on their phone. The feature includes a section called 'For My Eyes Only' – a PIN-protected area where explicit snaps can be stored. Instances of PIN and password sharing have then later occurred."

Snapchat have a "Safety Center" where they address concerns, offer advice, and share research findings, but Diggins says this may not be enough to make some parents feel comfortable.

"In adolescence, teens brains are changing resulting in an increase in novelty seeking, risk-taking and social connectedness. In my opinion, this combination of factors makes apps like Snapchat more risky than other apps due to its inherent invitation for risk-taking behaviour."

Whatsapp and Kik

Whatsapp and Kik aren't as popular as the major social media apps, but they do provide a way of exchanging direct messages, similar to Facebook Messenger. The way the apps are used will determine whether they're useful or damaging to teens, says Diggins.

"The utility of this is social connection, group chat conversations that can relate to school assignments and social events," he says. "The downside of it is that people have a direct way to make negative comments or bully. However, the 'block' feature buffers against this threat."

If parents want to protect their children on Kik, they can ensure the function that allows strangers to contact the user is switched off.

Tumblr

Tumblr is another smaller app that provides a platform for people to share their artwork, writing, photos, audio and videos with a worldwide audience, so it's popular among the creative niche. It's also popular as a fan site and meme-sharing app. Posts can attract feedback from any user around the world which can leave teens vulnerable.