By far the hottest smartphone app for teens in 2012 was Instagram. It was the one trend that no matter what group of teens I was speaking with, they all mentioned it as being very popular with teens. And with the number of teens owning smartphones up from 23% in 2011 to 37% in 2012, this app remains popular with teens well into 2013 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Here is a quick synopsis of Instagram in case you are unfamiliar with this app. It is an app for your smartphone that enables you to edit pictures using various filters and effects. This allows you to make your everyday pictures look like you are a seasoned photographer. And of course Instagram allows you to easily share your pictures with friends via Facebook and Twitter. The app also allows you to “follow” others so that you always receive the latest pictures of what your friends are having for lunch. Just to put the popularity of this app in perspective, there are roughly 40 million pictures uploaded to the Instagram app each day.
When I ask teens why they like Instagram, they share various reasons related to personal self-expression. It allows them to share their life through pictures in a creative and sometimes artistic way.
With Instagram being so popular with teens, I have been paying more attention to it. I have been asking teens questions related to the app and how they use it and I have been using it myself to become more familiar with the app and it’s functions.
I think Instagram is a great app for adults and teens. It can bring out a creative side in almost anyone, which I think is a character trait lacking in today’s teens. It also allows teens to share unique experiences and opportunities they have had with their peers.
Recently at a large Teen Leadership conference I was helping manage, we created a hashtag for the conference. I was blown away when we had over 4,000 pictures tagged with the conference hashtag in just three days. The majority of the pictures showed teens participating in community service events, college tours and exploring historical sites. I thought this was very powerful. They were sharing these experiences with their peers who were not able to attend the event. When discussing this with one of the teens, he reminded me that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
But I have noticed several trends related to Instagram that are concerning.
Age recuirement. One trend I have seen is common on many social networking sites. Users who are under the required age creating an account. The terms of Instagram state you must be 13 years old to use the services, but I have some across many accounts associated with youth under that age.
Public vs. Private. Instagram preferences, like most social media networks, are set to public but provide the option for the user to make their content private. If your Instagram account is set to private that means a user must ask to follow you before they can view your pictures. I am discovering that many teens do not make the selection to keep their account private. Because it is public, any Instagram user can view their pictures.
Creepy. Instagram has a feature that allows you to explore others content. This will generate a display showing pictures of various users that can be refreshed to show more photos. In viewing this option I have seen pictures of teens pop up in this display. What disturbs me the most is some of the pictures show teens in revealing outfits. I was showing this to my wife the other day and telling her how I have seen some of these users, who are teens, have upwards of 25K to 75K followers. What this tells me is either this teen is a celebrity that I don’t know about. Or there are a lot of Instagram users who are stumbling onto their pictures and then following them so that they continue to see more pictures of that teen in revealing outfits. Either way, it is disturbing to me that a teen of 15 or 16 are posting these types of pictures for all to see.
“Likes.” In a recent blog by Sarah Brooks, she talks about how teens are wrapped up in the number of “Likes” or “Followers” they have on sites like Instagram. For some teens, they may use this as a way to gage their popularity or self-worth. If you have not already read her post I encourage you to check it out here.
I started asking teens if they saw their peers trying to gain more “likes” and what they felt it meant. Here is what I learned.
“I believe that it’s all an “ego” thing, also if you have more followers people think your Important in some way.”
“I have seen (the hashtag) #likeforlike so people who search it can like the pictures and have one of theirs liked too.” I checked this out in the explore feature on Instagram and found 7,207,689 pictures tagged #LikeforLike, many of them were of teens. The picture to the left is an example of what I found when I searched the hashtag #LikeforLike.
When discussing the popular hashtag #40morelikes one teen shared, “it is a way to get likes and followers. There is an app called TagforLikes that many people use to get a lot of likes on their pictures.” I checked this out and indeed there were several apps that a user could download that would help you attain more “Likes” on your pictures. What it does is allow you to easily tag your picture with the most popular hashtags on Instagram, such as #food or #girl. Then when someone searches for one of those hashtags, your picture is displayed for them to view. The picture to the right is an example.
One reviewer of the app TagsforLikes mentioned gaining over 20 new likes in a matter of seconds using the app. Note these are not more likes from your friends but from random users.
If you are like me, all of this probably feels a little overwhelming. Maybe you are even thinking about taking social media privileges away from your teen. I don’t have all the answers but here are a few ideas to help guide you.
Tips for youth workers and parents:
- Be aware. Half of the battle is knowing that these trends are out there and teens are engaging in them. My hope is that my blog is useful in provideing you with some current and relevat information regardint teens and teen trends. But you can ask teens yourself too. I am always surprised how much teens are willing to share. If you are a youth worker make sure you are asking teens about new trends, how they use new apps or what certain hashtags mean. Sarah Brooks is a great example of engaging the youth she is working with in conversation and being aware of what is going on. Parents, my hope is your teen is connected to a youth group. If so, ask the youth worker(s) what are some of the trends you need to be aware of. And youth workers help out the parents. Host a workshop, write a monthly newsletter, create a system to text parents regularly about new trends you are seeing that you think they should be aware of.
- Talk to your teen(s) about the importance of privacy settings on social network sites like Instagram. According to Pew Internet, only “39% of parents of teen users of social networks have helped their child set up privacy settings for a social networking site.” Youth workers here is another way you can help out. Host a social network session for your teens where you teach them about the privacy settings and why it is important that they use them properly.
- Give them a “Like.” Not on a social media account but in real life. Every day. And often. Make sure they know they are liked, heck make sure they know they are loved and that someone cares about them. In the little things and big things. Compliment their outfit, their positive attitude, a character trait they displayed, just plan tell them they are awesome!