Look at your kids. What are they doing? Ten to one they’re occipital lobe-deep in some handheld device you’re paying for. But what exactly are they doing on said device?
That’s a good question for a couple of reasons: 1) because you’re responsible, and the Internet is a big, scary place, and 2) because, chances are, whatever they’re doing on their phones now will affect what you’ll be doing on yours in a couple years.
The youth hold our digital future in their ever-bobbing and weaving thumbs. Here’s what they’re doing (and not doing) online right now. (Hint: it’s mostly sending pictures to each other in one form or another.)
The Big Three
Facebook is like the family dinner table. You kids may be seated there, but that doesn’t mean they want to participate in the conversation. And, while it looks safe to say that, when they get older, they’ll return to activity on Facebook—as it’s nearly as essential as email at this point—right now, the adolescents have moved on. Which is to say, they probably won’t ‘like’ anything you post, but they probably still like you.
Yes, there are still legions of teens tweeting, but your kids probably aren’t. Twitter has mostly been taken over by members of the media and celebrities.
This is the one platform pretty much everyone agrees is still cool, including your 13-year-old daughter, because who doesn’t heart beautiful imagery with little to no required reading. It’s simple, no nonsense and still provides the requisite FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that makes all social media addictive. Plus, for teens, it offers a great way to establish social hierarchy. Kids will use their bios to list their friends. Heaven-forbid your daughter’s name should be left off one of her friend’s lists.
The immediacy of Instagram, mixed with the intimacy of Skype. An app that has received (maybe earned?) a bad rap, Snapchat is a picture-swapping platform. You send photos and short videos to friends and followers, which will disappear after they are viewed. While it seems tailor-made for sexting, it’s also quickly expanding into the business environment with more and more brands jumping on the Snapchat bandwagon.
The soul of Reddit, without the dark corners. Plus, at the moment, the place is theirs. YikYak allows members to post anonymous notes to a board, and then other member up-vote them. It could be a powerful political tool, but the kids are mostly using it to talk smack about their teachers.
Your kids love it for the same reason Livejournal was so popular 15 years ago: it’s perfect for self-creation. It’s like Instagram grew up and got an Arts degree. With Steller, users can produce mini-magazine-like galleries with images, video and words for a storytelling experience that’s deeper than Instagram.
A Word on Digital Parenting:
Just because they know more than you about what’s happening on the Wild Wild Web, doesn’t mean they know better. All your fear-based childhood maxims about not talking to strangers, or getting in their vans for candy still apply for your children’s online behavior. Your parenting should include a healthy mix of education and supervision, we feel just fine extolling the virtues of your computer’s parental control functions like personal information blocking, chat monitoring and website filtering.
Finally, why they care:
Understand this: your kid’s digital presence is way more important than yours. Rebecca Levey is the co-founder of Kidzvuz.com, a review site for tweens by tweens, and a parent of two. “Social media allows children to try on different personas and test boundaries,” she says, explaining why their digital presence means so much more to them than ours do to us. “It’s a part of building their identity, and they’re the first generation to do it.”
But, as with all things children obsess over, it’s the parent’s choice, (no, responsibility) to limit use to a healthy level. Options include a strict screen-time schedule or restricted access to Wifi. “My daughters are currently at a seven week sleep-away camp with no electricity in Maine,” says Levey. That’s another way to do it.