Social media. Ten years ago the concept was barely recognized, but now it is an international phenomenon – and we know that it is here to stay.
Over the next month, the Youth Ministry Blog will be taking the time to sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Social Media – and the role it plays in Youth Ministry. As such, we want to give a quick overview of many of the popular sites and apps that youth workers (and parents!) should be aware of – as these are sites and apps that our students are interacting with on a daily basis.
Please note that in the following synopsis, the “age restrictions” listed are the stated restriction that the sites/apps have suggested. However, apart from asking students what year they were born (which is then not verified in any way), there is typically no policing of age violations.
The usual suspects:
- Facebook – Users create a profile and then share photos, messages, comments with friends through “posts” – has privacy settings that allows for posts to be fairly private but these must be set manually by user. Not very popular with kids anymore – mostly because it’s popular with their parents! Age restriction of 13.
- YouTube – A very popular video sharing site/app. Completely user generated, it relies on the community to flag videos that violate terms of service. Lots of easily accessed material (both of the appropriate and inappropriate nature). Can be accessed/watched by anyone, age restriction is 18 (or 13 with clicking the ‘parent permission’ box) to post videos.
- Pinterest – Virtual “pin” board consisting of re-uploaded images and information linked from other websites. More popular with females, and also very popular with adults. Age restriction of 13.
- Twitter – A “micro blogging” site where users post brief messages (140 characters max) called “tweets.” Very popular with kids for keeping up with friends as well as pop-culture and celebrities. Can be set to private, but the point is to get “followers” to “re-tweet” your tweets. Age restriction of 13.
- Instagram – Very popular, now owned by Facebook. Users take, edit (many fun photo filters), share and comment on photos. Everything is public unless set to private, but like Twitter-public is the point and users look for lots of “followers”. Age restriction of 13.
New(er) on the scene:
- Snapchat-- This app allows users to share photos and videos, but it also let’s users put a 1 to 10 second time limit on them such that they quickly “disappear”. However, these images can be saved via the “screen-shot” method, and may also be traceable if the device is plugged into a computer. Age restriction of 13.
- Snapkidz - A training app of sorts for Snapchat (for those under 13). Allows younger users to take snaps and videos, but does not allow them to share them.
- Tumblr—Like a streaming scrapbook, users create and share photos, videos, and also “tumblelogs”. Very complicated to set privacy settings. Age restriction 13.
- Vine – Owned by Twitter, and similar in concept except with videos. Lets users post and watch looping 6-second videos, and promotes “following.” Lots of funny content, but unfortunately lots of fairly easily accessed inappropriate videos too – in fact, they changed the age restriction from 12 to 17 last year because of numerous porn uploads.
- Kik Messenger – Free texing app, popular with younger kids that have a mobile device (iPod, tablet, etc.) that is not an actual phone. Lots of ads and lots of pushing for additional app adoption. Age restriction 13 to have an account.
- TextMe – Very similar to Kik Messenger, free downloadable texting app for those who do not have cellular/texting services on their device. Age restriction of 13.
- YikYak—App allows users to post brief comments anonymously that will be seen by the nearest 500 users within a 1.5 mile radius. The user’s location is revealed every time the app is opened. Intended initially for college students, many high schools are working to block the app. In my experience, this is the app that has contributed the most to cyber bullying in the recent past (but one that kids are hesitant to delete, as they want to know if/what is being said about them). Age “restriction” is 17, but no age verification, just a warning about content.
- Ask.fm – Allows users to ask questions and answer posted questions anonymously, many of which tend towards the sexuality or the self worth of another person. Also, the poster of the answer may be anonymous, but the poster of the question is typically not. Age restriction of 13.
- Whisper- A “confessional” app that allows user to post anything on their mind with an image anonymously. Age restriction of 17.
- Omegle – Somewhat of a “chat roulette” – the app pairs strangers for video or text chat. No registration required. Age restriction 13, users under 18 need ‘parent permission’, but there is no verification process.
- Gaming Chat Rooms (various) – Players of certain video games develop an anonymous gaming ‘persona’ and connect/chat with other strangers (of all ages and in any location) on the online community playing the same game. Chatting can be done through gaming consoles or mobile devices. Age restrictions vary in the various chat rooms.
Dating/”Hook up” apps:
- Tinder - A photo and messaging dating app for browsing pictures of potential matches close to the users location for the purpose of meeting up (or hooking up). Recently changed its age restriction from 12 to 17.
- HotorNot - From the HotorNots website: “Add photos- people with good photos get more attention. Play the game – vote for the hottest people, and they’ll vote for you. Get fans- if you both rate each other Hot, we’ll connect you.” Policy says user must be 13+ and users 13-17 cannot chat or message, but no verification process.
Others which you may want to be aware of, if you are not already:
In interviewing a handful of students regarding their specific social media use, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that they all just wished it would go away. However, since that does not appear to be happening anytime soon, the students were adamant that they have no choice but to be present on the number of different of sites and apps that inundate them —such that they can stay “in the loop”, know what is being said about them and their friends, and/or so that they can actively represent themselves in a particular way.
When I asked these students what parents should know about teens social media use, the words “dangerous” and “drama” came up immediately. In addition, one girl stated that it “cuts down on your self worth… people talk about you or comment on your stuff and make you feel bad about yourself.” Nevertheless, in a matter of minutes, these same students were discussing how helpful social media was to stay in touch with their friends (or, as one seemingly innocent high school boy put it -- “stalk my girlfriend”). In addition, a student stated that being on social media in some ways left an online legacy such that she could “mark achievements along the way so that you can always go back to them” and another chimed in that he sometimes “post[s] pictures of [him]self working… so that I can prove that I’m not lazy.”
So, what do you think? Is social media helpful or hurtful to our teens? How can we claim the square inch that IS social media to be glorifying to God in our own lives, and in our ministries? These are some of the things we will be discussing in the coming weeks here on the blog, and we invite you to add your voice to the discussion.