Social media has quickly become one of the most dominant forces in the lives of our children - which begs the question ‘What are they actually doing on it?’.

Let’s find out.

How Teens Access the Internet

According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of teens access the internet from mobile devices (typically smartphones, but with a small group using tablets), and of these teens, 94% go online at least daily. There aren’t many absolutes in statistics, but in the practical sense, we can say that basically all teens are doing this - and those who aren’t probably want to be.

This actually matters, because how teens access the internet influences the types of things they do.

Teens who access via smartphone tend to:

  • Visit social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.)

  • Chat with friends, either through Apps (Kik) or Text Messages

  • Focus on image-based interactions (taking Selfies, pictures of meals, etc.)

  • Access the internet while away from the house

  • Play mobile games

Teens who still access the internet from desktop computers, on the other hand, will typically:

  • Visit broader parts of the internet

  • Use chat programs (Skype), but send fewer direct messages and texts

  • Read text, rather than looking at pictures

  • Access content at home, often in the privacy of their bedroom

Popular Apps

Facebook continues to be the most popular form of social media among teens, despite a recent drop in its user base and overall popularity. In fact, many teens continue to use Facebook because it’s the network where ‘everyone’ is - though they aren’t using it to connect with their friends as often as they used to.

Directly beneath Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat - both picture-based platforms - are the dominant choice, especially among girls. Teens want to share the visual aspect of their lives, and in many cases, the response they get to each picture is used as a judgment of their overall social popularity.

Twitter and Google+ trail the three leaders, but each still has about one in three teens active on it. Given Twitter’s high turnover rate, this is an impressive number, though many teens use it more for discussing social topics and getting updates from companies and brands they like. Google+ is the app of choice among serious teens that are trying to prepare for the future. At the very least, Google+ is not much of a hangout just yet - though that could change in the future as Google keeps developing it.

Privacy Issues

Social media is not a good place for teens who are concerned about privacy. Most social networks thrive on sharing - or selling - information, and the more teens say about themselves, the easier it is to sell them to the highest bidder.

Just as relevantly, social networks have been known to ‘reset’ the privacy settings for users, switching the information to public even when users specifically told it not to do that. While most teens honestly aren’t bothered by the idea of advertisers trying to sell to them, they’re starting to realize that future bosses could check their social media accounts and deny them a job because of things they’ve said in the past.

In short, it’s best to assume that anything posted to a social media account will eventually become public.

How To Keep Kids Safe

The best way to keep teens safe online is thoroughly monitoring what they’re doing and ensuring they’re not posting content that could come back to hurt them later on.

There are also ways for teens to take control of their privacy and ensure that the only things social networks see are what teens feel comfortable sharing. You can’t watch them every minute of the day, but if you teach them how to protect themselves, then you won’t need to watch as closely - and that’s a win for everybody.