With the rise of smart phones among teenagers, we have seen an increase over the last five years in students being online. Students are online regularly communicating with others and surfing the web. Anytime you have a question about something (whatever that may be), you can instantly figure out the answer with a smart phone. Social media has been on the rise as well. About 6-7 years ago, Myspace had this brilliant idea to allow you to connect online. Nearly every teenager was on it. It was considered “the thing” at the time. Then, facebook came along for teenagers, and it took time, but students gravitated over to facebook. Now that many parents, grandparents, teachers, and pastors are on facebook, teenagers have left facebook to move to other online social networking sites. Facebook is still a part of their life, but their time now, from my perspective, is spent elsewhere. Where? I work with about 70-80 teenagers in our student ministry, and here are the top places that our teenagers are at online in today’s society:
- Twitter– Twitter has overtaken the social media world. Twitter is a website that allows users to post short thoughts about their lives in 140 characters or less. Twitter is the best tool for keeping up with the latest news regarding the economy, politics, or even sports. You can also keep up with celebrities by following their account. Twitter has dominated the world. You very rarely watch a show, a news segment, or a sporting event on television without an announcer asking you to follow the event on twitter by showing a certain hash tag. Teens are on twitter all of the time. If you want to know what is truly in the mind of your teenager, check twitter! It might be scary or disappointing, but it helps you understand what your teenager is thinking.
- Instagram– Instagram is a platform that allows someone to take a photo, edit the photo, and instantly share it with all of your followers. It is the best mobile photo editing device. It allows you to connect with others through photos. I love instagramming pictures of my family or our student ministry. Teens are into instagram because of the artistic look that you can make instantly on a photo that you took. Instagram can make an amateur photographer look like a pro. The problem with instagram is that mature photos and content can slip in that does not need to happen, let alone be shared with others.
- Ask.fm– This is a social media site that is fairly new to the social networking world (at least for our teens). The site was launched in 2010, but grown considerably among our teenagers in the last 6 months. Ask.fm is a social site that allows a person to ask another person any question publicly. You can even ask questions anonymously. It is a fun tool, and can be pretty hilarious at times. This is the reason teens are into it. Everyone can see the questions that people have asked you and the answers that you gave by looking at your profile. You might have heard of this social site by keeping up with the news. It has been involved in several cyberbullying cases as of late. Some even have resulted in suicide. It is an easy way to bully others online and still remain anonymous. Another problem is that the different profiles that I have looked at, there is a great deal of sexual content. Nearly every profile has involved some questions regarding sexual activity. You cannot control what another person asks, but you can delete it when you receive the question.
- Snapchat– Snapchat is a messaging app that allows you to take photos of yourself or something and send them to another person only allowing that person to see the photo for a limited amount of time. It sounds great, but this is an open door for sexting. I remember when unlimited texting was the big thing, I had teen’s parents coming to me left and right with problems with their teens and sexting. Snapchat is an easy way to try to sext and get away with it. The problem that teens do not recognize is that you can take a screen shot of the picture that was sent to you, and keep it. There also are ways that snapchats can be recovered so the idea that the photo totally goes away is a myth. I do not like the idea of snapchat. If you want to share photos like this, just text them or instagram them. It seems like a way to get away with photos that you would not want your parents or others to see which is dangerous for a young teenager.
- Vine– Vine has slowly decreased when it comes to usage among teenagers as of late since the start of Instagram video. Many have deleted their vine accounts and use instagram video now. Vine is a social app that allows you to watch and post six second video clips. This site is owned by twitter, and has gotten great reviews from teens regarding its funny content. The problem that I see with vine is the inappropriate content that is flooding this site. It will not take long at all to find sexual, inappropriate, and pervasive content on this social site.
- YouTube– YouTube has been around a long time, and it is still growing. Students record themselves online, and oftentimes use YouTube’s live streaming service to Skype with friends rather than using the traditional method (Skype). YouTube has gained much exposure as of late for its influence on the gaming world as well. Many students have high ambitions of making themselves famous on YouTube because of the influence of people like Justin Bieber who was found on YouTube. YouTube is the best video service out there. I use it regularly, and some of the funniest content found in video form is posted on YouTube. It is not as innocent as you may think though. Although it can be innocent, there is pornography and explicit material on the site as well. Many teens can watch video after video for hours, and they eventually will come across a sexually explicit video or a profane video. Be careful with this site. It is great, but monitor its content and be aware of what is out there.
- Facebook– I mentioned facebook as a way of introduction, but it has lost its popularity, because parents, teachers, and pastors have found their way to facebook. Teens do not want to hang out where these groups of people are at. So, they have found many ways around that. This does not mean that facebook is not used regularly, it just means that facebook is used less than the others mentioned. If you look at the teens in my youth group, nearly every one of them have a facebook, but they communicate more on these other sites than on facebook. I do not need to post much about facebook, because nearly everyone knows its purpose, and what it does.
- Kik Messenger– This is a messaging service that I predict will continue to grow and grow. It is free and fast. Also, it has no character limits so you can send a text as long as you desire. Kik has received much negative reviews because of its ability to social network with strangers and eventually enter into texting conversations with complete strangers. This is dangerous for teens and adults.
- OoVoo– This is a site similar to Skype. It is a free video, voice, or messaging app that you can use. Oovoo is popular among teens because its ability to chat with several people at the same time. Group chats are extremely popular. One thing about oovoo is that users can only communicate with those that they approve. This is a great way for parents to monitor their oovoo profile, but teens can approve anyone that they want to approve if the parents are not regularly checking their profile. Be careful for the dangerous content on here. Many get on here and create a profile to communicate with people that they may not want their parents to be aware about, because they have no idea what this site is about. Also, this site has received much criticism for its girls being inappropriate using this as their webcam for sexual material.
- Skype– Many use Skype, oovoo, and YouTube. They all can create the same purpose, but Skype (in my opinion) is the best at what it does for me. I use Skype regularly, and it is a video based platform to video chat with someone else instantly. If they have a smart phone, they can Skype on the spot with anyone that they intend to communicate with. Skype like all other apps can get inappropriate without it being monitored.
As a parent, you may read this, and be overwhelmed. How in the world could you possibly monitor every app on a student’s phone? Here are some helpful hints:
- Be honest with them– The key is teach them to use what is out there for good and not bad. Preventing them is important and necessary on some levels, but there will come a day where you will not be able to prevent them from using the world’s gadgets any longer. The best solution that I can tell you is to be honest with them in communicating the dangers and consequences of using these different communication apps for good or bad. It’s okay to not allow certain apps, but if you deleted every app on this list, you may find a student who gets away with it behind your back, and will not know how to use it properly. Be honest and up front with your kids about how to communicate. Teach them to properly use twitter, instagram, facebook and others. Teach them that things that are public have consequences in the working world and with you as the parent.
- Set boundaries for them– Have consequences when they break your boundaries, but set clear boundaries for their use of social media. Set boundaries for their content and postings. Stick to them, and praise them when they stay within the boundaries, but do not be afraid to discipline them when they break and go beyond the boundaries.
- Socialize online with them– If your student has a twitter, you should have one. Every social site that your teen has, you should be entitled to the app and the ability to follow their profile. Get to know who they are interacting with online.
- Pray for them– Look, the world is moving too fast for us to keep up. Students are much further along than us. The best and most important thing that you can do is actively be praying for the purity, holiness, and protection of your kids.
We need to be growing teens who can navigate through things and be able to make good, wise, God-honoring decisions with the different things that the world throws at them.