The Internet and Teens

Most parents of a teenager can often find their teen glued to the internet or a cell phone reportedly “interacting” with friends. Many of these parents do not fully understand what their child is doing for all those hours while on the phone or computer and could benefit from a brief lesson on some of the top websites teens are accessing now. Keep in mind that, for the most part, teens use the internet to interact with peers, express themselves in healthy ways, and find virtual niches where they feel like they are understood. However, it is also important to recognize the importance of moderation, especially with respect to the use of electronics and the internet. On one hand, it is important that teens are able to interact with same-aged peers on social networking sites or through text messaging as these are some of the primary modes of communication used by teens; but, on the other hand, it is important that teens are not sacrificing face-to-face interaction, are aware of internet/phone messaging safety, and are not turning to the internet or phone as a way to escape day to day responsibilities. With that being said, here are some of the top websites accessed by teens and a brief description of their purposes:

Facebook and Twitter – At this point, you have probably heard about Facebook and Twitter or you may even have them yourself. Both are social media networks that teens have used for years, but there seems to be a difference between what teens use each site for, especially given the number of parents who are “friends” with their children on Facebook. According to Linda W. Braun, the educational consultant and former president of YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association), a young attendee at a recent conference stated that “Facebook is where you lie to people you know. Twitter is where you tell the truth to strangers.” Both Facebook and Twitter have privacy options where what a user posts is only visible to a select group of people.

Tumblr – Tumblr is a lesser known social networking/blogging site, where teens can blog, post images and links, as well as incorporate music from the website Spotify. Many teens report using Tumblr because they enjoy reposting images or sayings from other bloggers’ sites. Users on Tumblr have the option of making their blog private.

Instagram – Instagram is a photo-sharing app that lets users take a picture and apply a digital filter to transform its look and feel and then share the photo with others. Users are able to share photos directly on Instagram, but are also able to incorporate their photos on social-networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Like the aforementioned sites, Instagram has the option for making photos private, though the default setting is public.

Pinterest — Pinterest is a virtual pin-board that lets users organize and share information or products found on the web. Users can also browse other users’ pinboards and then “pin” to their own board. Most information pinned on Pinterest is public given the nature of the site; however, you have the option of creating “Secret Boards” that are private or shared with only a select group.

YouTube, Skype, & Texting – To round out the list is Youtube, a well-known website that allows users to upload, view, and share video clips; Skype, a software application that allows users to make video calls over the Internet; and Texting, the preferred communication method of most teens which involves typing messages back and forth between cell phones. One of the newest trends with texting involves the texting of photos back and forth to create a conversation though images.

Finally, keep in mind that digital trends are constantly changing, so what might be hot one day might be out the next day. Hopefully, this post helped some of those not-so-tech-savvy parents out there better understand what their teens are actually doing while locked away in their room on the computer.

Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist