The internet is so much a part of many of our daily lives now. For young people it is a part of growing up and they cannot imagine a world without it.
It also provides information about sexual and mental health issues or in fact anything that concerns them.
They can seek help online anonymously, enabling some to overcome any personal barriers that prevent them seeking mental healthcare in a face-to-face situation.
Being so comfortable with technology means some young people also develop technical and creative skills, and are also able to find others who share their same passions.
There is a down-side to all this connectedness, which is resulting in some new behaviours. These can be alarming for parents as it’s so unfamiliar.
For young people being connected and online all the time is a part of fitting in. It can have an impact on their self-worth, positively or negatively, as they can see it as a measure of their popularity, or seek validation for what they post online.
It’s important for you as a parent, or guardian, to have an idea about what the communication tools young people are using. This can help you understand the environment they are in and understand the behaviours in that environment.
Despite continuous stories about membership dropping, Facebook is still the most popular social network worldwide. Having a Facebook profile allows users to use social login to other sites and apps.
How people use it changes. Also, different age groups tend to have different relationships with it, but it is sure to be a part of all our lives for some time.
Right now, Facebook are making changes, to make it appear to users as more of an everyday newsfeed. Facebook have also made moves to capture younger users by their taking over of Instagram and Whatsapp. The Facebook messenger app is very popular with young people, with gowing numbers accessing Facebook Live, its video streaming feature.
With a Facebook profile, you invite, or accept invitations, from friends. You can share status updates, photos, videos with all of your friends and have private or public conversations. Private groups are still very popular on Facebook and can be created for the most innocuous reasons as a backlash to ‘over-sharing’. You cannot see what goes on in a private group without an invitation.
Facebook wants everyone to be connected, so it’s really important to keep on top of privacy controls in account settings as they change what the default settings are from time-t0-time. Through account settings a user can decide who sees their posts, photos and videos, e.g. ‘just friends’, ‘friends of friends’, or ‘everyone’.
Facebook have a very comprehensive Safety Center, full of tools and resources. Make sure anyone in the family who has a profile on Facebook is aware of this and its contents.
Called a microblogging site, Twitter users have a limit of 140 characters to use in posts – called tweets. Having a Twitter profile also allows users to use social login to other sites and apps.
Tweets can include text, images or links to videos and articles. Users on Twitter can see other people’s tweets by ‘following’ them.
The attraction of Twitter is its real-time nature and the ability to facilitate online conversations. With Twitter, users can be connected to celebrities and people that they admire offering a genuine insight to their lives.
Twitter also owns Vine (mentioned further down) and Periscope, a live video streaming app.
Twitter is at the centre of a lot of trolling stories, as deliberate hate campaigns have been launched against public figures via the platform. While you can block people on Twitter and delete tweets you might regret posting, all interaction takes place in real time, so anything posted can potentially take on a life of its own, especially if it’s retweeted by another user. Retweeting effectively means forwarding another person’s post to your followers.
Twitter have developed a very comprehensive safety centre.
Snapchat is a smartphone app that allows you to take photos, or short videos, with the option of adding filters, overlay images, writing or typing text over it and sending it those you are connected to.
The image disappears from being viewable on your phone with the maximum length of time the message lasts at ten seconds.
The idea behind it being the message is not a permanent feature and it therefore captures a sense of spontaneity. However, the image does not actually disappear. The image changes its file extension type but still exists on your phone. The receiver can also take a screenshot of what has been sent to them, to keep or share.
You can also take 10 second videos with Snapchat, but there are also details of hacks online that allow you to take videos for as long as you like.
In July 2015, 84% of 15-18 year-olds in Ireland reported having an account. 85% of these 15-18 year-old claimed to use it daily.
Daily use is key, as the snapstreak encourages users to send each other an image everyday, basically to see how long you can keep this up for. Some young users can be maintaing up to 30 snapstreaks at a tim.
Snapchat are making changes to the service all the time, with news outlets using the ‘stories’ function to great effect.
Whatsapp is a smartphone app that allows free texts, audio and picture messaging, once users are online through Wifi, or data. You can set up groups or have individual conversations. This is really popular with young people, so much so that Facebook bought it in 2013 in an effort for inroads to a youth audience.
While the look and feel hasn’t changed since Facebook bought it, you can now make phone calls through WhatsApp and add document attachments. You can access WhatsApp through a web desktop version, but contacts need to be in your phone to access.
Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, Kik and Facebook messenger can be used for ‘sexting’, but if you see these icons on your son or daughters phone you shouldn’t assume that. Conversations do need to be had though about sending intimate pictures by whatever means, take a look at talking to teens about sexting for more on this.
Instagram is an increasingly popular network based on photo-sharing. Designed as a smartphone app, you can access it through a web browser too, but with less functionality. It is very popular with younger users and they use it the same way others use Facebook to share status updates throughout the day.
Instagram allows users to take photos and apply different filters, take videos of up to 15 seconds duration and add captions. There is a large capacity, (up to 2,200) for text in captions beneath photos in Instagram.
People tend to leave their profiles open, but you can follow people as well without them having to accept an invitation.
Hugely popular with celebrities connecting with their fans, it is also one of the more notable platforms for advertisers targeting ‘influencers’. These influencers are people who are not celebrities in the traditional sense, but have a large following so advertisers approach them for placement of products. These popular users are now meant to declare when they’re being paid to endorse something, but this isn’t always clear.
Young people may not see that accounts they’re following are not exactly realistic, and be a great pains to copy styles, body shape or activities portrayed in them, in the belief that they are peers. Even besides advertising, young people have told us about the pressure they feel, needing to look a certain way because of what they see their friends doing on social media.
This came to light in March 2017, although it was available to download from 2011. It’s a free app, available for both Android and iOS devices, you can also use a browser version. It doesn’t need an account to use, so users are anonymous. SimSimi is a chatbot and users can ‘teach’ it to say things to other users. There is talk of suspension in Ireland at the end of March 2017 as users have been manipulating it to bully other users.
Twitch is the most popular social video platform and community for gamers and video game culture. Each day, close to 10 million visitors gather to watch and talk about video games with more than 2 million streamers.
Kik is a messaging app, and at the first level acts like that allowing users to send messages, images and videos with filters.
It also has a built-in web browser, that hosts internal native apps. It’s its own internet, allowing users to play mobile games, make memes, watch videos, listen to music, and check out the funniest content on Reddit without leaving.
Something to be aware of is app is that is allows users to message others without needing to show your phone number, and so brings with it all that can happen when people can maintain their anonymity.
Pinterest is another photo-based social network. It experienced real growth at the beginning of 2011. Food, recipes, fashion and interiors feature prominently on Pinterest.
Students who are studying anything visual: art, animation, design – find it a really useful tool and the numbers are growing steadily.
This is roughly the same age as Snapchat and is a free dating phone app. Over 50% of its users are in the 18 – 24 age group, with a small margin of users (7%) in the 13 to 17 years-old bracket. The functionality is more of a game than a traditional networking or dating site. Users swipe through profile images and select a match (or not) based on images and brief bios.
If two people match, as in accept the match they can then start a private chat.
It links itself to your Facebook profile for some accountability and it works by showing you profiles of those near to you, using location services on your phone.
This is a phone app that allows you to take and share six second videos. It’s owned by Twitter and so links your videos to your Twitter profile. From Tuesday, 17 January 2017, Vine will act as a camera feature, allowing for 6.5 second videos and shared to Twitter but the Vine.co platform will no longer host them.
Anyone with a Gmail account automatically has a Google+ account. The general takeup and activity is slow, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away.
Learning from a backlash to Facebook activity (people over sharing, everything), profiles are based on circles – allowing you to choose to view different posts from family, friends and acquaintances.
Unlike sites such as Facebook and Twitter, AskFM had no privacy settings to begin with and allowed users to ask questions of each other anonymously.
Ask.fm has the option to connect your profile to your Facebook or Twitter profiles. By default, each new member agreed to receive anonymous messages.
With more than 40 million users worldwide it became a haven for school bullies, targeting victims online without fear of being discovered. The same behaviour happened on a questions and answer site Formspring in 2008.
Ask.fm restructured completely and have a new set of policies and moderation in place.
Foursquare is a location based social network where people ‘check-in’ in different spots. Foursquare is not very popular in Ireland, but businesses do encourage people to check-in through promotional offers that people do avail of.
A stalwart of the social media world, Tumblr is a blogging site with a loyal audience that brings a certain left-of-centre culture with it.
Tumblr took action in 2011 to clamp down on any profiles or blogs that promoted anything that would be conducive to self-harm. It’s estimated that from 4% – 11% of Tumblr is pornographic imagery.
Flickr is a photo-hosting site that has private and premium options available. Owned by Yahoo, it was neglected in terms of upgrades for a few years but some development in the last year is bringing it back into popular use again.
LinkedIn is a business-focused site where people network and host information about their skills and experience.