Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Brief thought on Teenagers, Youth Culture, and Social Media


            In an online discussion group for Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian every single seminary student, with the exception of one, marked that technology, the internet, or social media was the biggest change since their teenage years. What is even more surprising is that this is coming from students who are as young as 23. The speed up and changing of technology and social media is so pervasive and shifting in our youth culture, and for that reason it deserves to be put under the microscope. I want to explore not only social media’s pervasive aspects into American youth culture, but also its volatility.
            First, it is no secret that the internet and, more specifically, social media has a very high use is in this country. According to Pew Research, “Fully 95% of those ages 12-17 use the internet. Eight in ten online teens use some kind of social media… Facebook, which attracts 77% of online teens.”[1] To basically sum that up, close to 75% of American teens are on Facebook alone. And this monolith shows no signs of stopping, except, of course, with American teenagers.
            Any teenager would gladly tell you’re their dislikes about Facebook, but they would tell them to you on Facebook. For the all the declining attitudes about Facebook, the American teenage demographic is only plateauing and not declining in their use of or signing up for facebook. [2][3] This is rather surprising considering the staggering amount of teenagers already on Facebook. But teens are diversifying their social media use for many different reasons. The top two reasons have to do with the monolithic culture of facebook and adults.
            Facebook may be too much for many American teenagers, with the information being shared, the relational aspects, and the other users. Teens report turning to other social media sites (i.e. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Vine) because of the constant need to be thoughtful about reputation or social interaction (“drama”).  “They …are drained by the ‘drama’ that they described as happening frequently on the site. The stress of needing to manage their reputation on Facebook also contributes to the lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the site is still where a large amount of socializing takes place, and teens feel they need to stay on Facebook in order to not miss out.”[4]
            The second main reason youth are diversifying their time and interaction through social media is because of parent/adult participation in Facebook. . Pew Research reports, “In focus groups, many teens expressed waning enthusiasm for Facebook. They dislike the increasing number of adults on the site…”[5] This should raise some eyebrows for parents and those who work with teens. In attempts to be relevant and connected to teenagers, teens are, for intents and purposes, leaving cyber-places of connection because of the mere fact that it is a place of connection with adults. What does it mean for parents, clergy, and youth leaders that teens want a place without them specifically? Should youth leaders be seeking to create or join parent-less spaces or helping the kids to act appropriately and with integrity when they are in spaces by themselves?
            While teens are always going to want to be in situations, places, and groups without the watchful eye of their ethical moderators, social media seems to be very precarious because of the anonymity and lack of experience from parents in being able to teach, inform, or interact. Continuing the dialogue, modeling appropriate technological behavior and guidelines, and entering into compelling “real-life” community with teens and peers may be good places to start as ever-increasing social media experiences present themselves.


[1] Madden, Mary, et. al. 2013. “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy.” Accessed from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-Social-Media-And-Privacy/Main-Report/Part-1.aspx

[2] ibid.

[3] Forbes article on teens leaving Facebook, “’Based on our data, that’s simply not true,’ [Zuckerberg] said. What may be true is that they’re not gravitating toward the service in increasing numbers anymore, but that’s just because ‘we’ve been fully penetrated in the teen demo for a while now,’ he said.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2013/
07/24/mark-zuckerberg-says-teenagers-arent-leaving-facebook/).

[4] Madden, accessed from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-Social-Media-And-Privacy/Summary-of-Findings.aspx


[5] ibid.