Are tweens and teens still flocking to Facebook?

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 @ 12:54 PM

FacebookThis time last year, Facebook was the focus of many of our client inquiries and YouthBeat related questions. This year, we’ve hardly had a request about the nature of social networks. Instead, apps occupy the minds of most marketers and innovators working in the youth space, and Facebook has hit a few bumps in the road. While the last week or so has been good for Facebook’s stock price, we have frequently found ourselves wondering if Facebook still matters to tweens and teens or if its success is fleeting.

  • Facebook is a distant second to texting, in terms of keeping in touch with friends. For this generation, social networks are places to play but much of their communication is mobile.
  • In the first half of 2012, the number of tweens signing on to social networks was significantly lower than in the same period the year before. We often see tweens embrace the most buzzed about practices and habits in higher numbers than even their teen counterparts but, likewise, we also see them “jump ship” faster than their cohorts.
  • And ownership of app enabled devices continues to climb among tweens and teens making mobile more important than ever. Facebook has been criticized for the quality of its app, so it’s no surprise that tweens’ and teens’ who turn to tablets and smartphones may have an adverse relationship to Facebook.
  • STILL Facebook tops the list of sites teens most frequently visit.

But perhaps there’s another way to see how Facebook matters….Psychologists and sociologists often debate the ways in which technology inserts itself into development and socialization processes. Sherry Turkle is one psychologist who offers compelling evidence that Facebook might matter more for the way it’s used than for the time it takes up in tweens’ and teens’ digital diaries.

Turkle, the founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, recently shared some of the insights from a study that served as the foundation for her book, Alone Together, with NPR’s Terry Gross: “[Teens] felt that on Facebook their life story followed them through their lives in a way that their older brothers and sisters were allowed to start fresh when they moved from elementary school to junior high, from junior high to high school, and then crucially from high school to college.”

Turkle suggests that Facebook might influence how free adolescents coming of age currently may feel about playing with identity (the traditional “work” of this stage): "Play with multiple identities in adolescence…used to kind of be their fun, and now there's one identity that counts — it's the Facebook identity. And I think many adolescents are also feeling the pressure of that.”

The Facebook effect is important to understand and explore, but finding ways to fill the gap and promoting safe persona play among adolescents might be the next best move for creators of online experiences for tweens and teens.

Tags: youth research, youth media, Facebook

How Young is Too Young? The Facebook Debate

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 23, 2011 @ 10:21 AM

In the past year, the most common question we've answered at YouthBeat is "at what age do kids start using Facebook?" Obviously, the answer has changed every few months, as Facebook has spread like good news or like a virus, depending on your perspective, among the connected cohort called Digital Natives. From where we sit, the game has played out differently among youth than one might expect. Certainly, more and more teens make the plunge all the time. The number of friends thatKids on Facebook 14-18 year olds have, on average has grown exponentially since we began tracking in 2008. 70% of teens report having visited a social networking site in the past week (among online teens). But what about the younger kids? What's the actual - versus the "legal" - age of entry into the online social sphere for today's youth?

An article in Ad Age from this week claims that over 7 million users of Facebook don't meet the age threshold of thirteen - the official age that users can join according to the site's rules. However, we know that rules are sometimes meant to be broken, and that, of course, applies to virtual rules too. 24% of 6 to 12 year olds in our YouthBeat survey say they visit social networking sites. Many tweens tell tales of sneaking onto the site, but more youth we've chatted with say their parents put them on the site. Some younger users only sign on to say hi to family, and many meet up with mom and dad on the sites while their working parents are on the road.

Critics of social networking worry that kids are getting into friending too fast...Are we on the verge of a time when 6 year olds will count their colleagues on the computer? Or when our 6 year olds will "like" their favorite brands with a virtual versus real thumbs up? Probably not. The need for speed that fuels the teen Facebook frenzy doesn't really exist for kids. Collecting is cool, but Silly Bandz might be more interesting to inventory than your classmates. And kids' networks tend to be much simpler and more manageable than adults'. They don't have college friends across the country, or friends who they can't keep track of. While families might be far aflung, a few Skype sessions might do the trick more than the maintenance of an account bearing your name. And most importantly, social networking can feel more work than not for this generation. They, moreso than their older brothers and sisters, recognize that this game is complicated. Given the choice, gaming sounds like a better use of time than getting into a conversation with friends from school.

But it may also be too soon to tell...Disney now owns Togetherville...Everywhere we turn, we see another "safe" social space set up with this younger age group in mind. And at the same time. The protests of parents seem to be losing steam (even if a few passionate parents continue to speak out against socializing for the kid set). No matter what happens, we'll keep watching.

Tags: advertisment, Youth, kids tweens teens, Facebook

Parents to their Kids: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:17 AM

It’s no surprise to anyone – youth aficionado or not – that social networking has captured the attention and imagination of young people. In the first half of 2010, in fact, 16% of kids, 43% of tweens and 71% of teens reported visiting at least one. And in addition to causing us all to grapple with fundamental questions about our private and public selves, social networking poses force parents to ask themselves a critical question related to online parenting etiquette: do you friend your child or not?Facebook

Today’s parents are no strangers to social networking themselves – 71% of parents with children 6-18 years of age report having a profile on a social networking site. But when it comes to parenting in the digital domain, this generation of parents is pioneering. And every day, new dilemmas surface.  As parents and their children’s play spaces begin to converge online, so have questions about what to do when they virtually bump into each other.

What we know about parents ”friending” children tells us a slightly unexpected story. 45% of parents who have profiles on social networking sites have friended their children. And we might even predict that younger kids are more likely to be friends with their parents than not. Many of the youngest users of these sites (which restrict usage to those over 13), have profiles established by parents, who often set up the accounts to enable their kids to keep in better touch with distant family members, or parents who don’t live with them or who sometimes travel without them. It might be safe to assume that teens would take offense to parental invasion into their “personal” (despite being very public) spaces. But in reality, 12% of parents of kids, 47% of parents of tweens and a full 75% of parents of teens report “friending” their children.

What’s behind these numbers? Perhaps teens fear not “friending” their parents because they’re savvy to the privacy settings on Facebook. (Mom and dad might think they’re seeing all their child’s activities, but are getting a highly edited version). Have today’s tweens and teens begun to realize that they shouldn’t say anything online that they wouldn’t want their parents to see? Probably not. It could be that teens actually don’t mind when their parents know what’s going on with them. Today’s youth seem to crave connection with their families more than ever. When time with them is limited because of busy work and activity schedules, meeting up online might be more of a treat than a trial. Or maybe teens don’t mind just a tad bit of supervision – or even the insinuation of supervision – in a space where bullying and aggression can spread like wildfire, and where even the most confident teen might be willing to admit that a little guidance couldn’t hurt.

What do you think? Should parents friend their children or leave them to their own devices when they’re in these online lounges?

Tags: kids, parents, cyberbullying, mom, family, Youth, Facebook

Cyberbullying: Too Much Emphasis on the Cyber?

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jun 28, 2010 @ 11:56 AM

In this morning’s New York Times, Jan Hoffman pens a thoughtful piece on Cyberbullying- an issue we’ve been hearing about on a daily basis since it first began hitting our collective radars right around 2003. With legislation pending in numerous states (see a paper by Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet on the legal ins and outs of this issue), we’ve seen an uptick of outrage and an increase in the interest of this topic.

In the article, Hoffman reveals the quandary schools find themselves in when faced with allegations of cyberbullying – particularly when it occurs off campus, and outside of school hours. And we know that these issues are complex to say the least. Tweens are still learning how to navigate the amoeba-like groups that seem to form, swarm and break up as quickly as a tweet...Throw in the ability and the opportunity to broadcast your every thought – positive or negative – to your whole group and beyond; it’s not surprising that tweens stumble as often as they succeed. Cyberbullying

But we were most struck by one pervasive attitude about cyberbullying that seems to seep through in the article, but isn’t addressed explicitly. The article appears on the NYTimes website under the sub-head, “Poisoned Web” (leading one to believe that this might be a section, alongside “Arts” and “Real Estate”). In her article, she exposes an email (that had already received attention from across the country) from a NJ middle school principle that read, “There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site.” And haven’t we all heard “those kids today and their Internet” from even the most progressive of our friends and relatives? In fact, I caught myself talking about teen relationships inappropriately publicized on Facebook just this past weekend…

It’s not that we deny the influence that social networking, texting and even AIM have on the way middle schoolers act. But instead of looking to technology as the cause of tween torment, and getting rid of it or forbidding it as the solution, maybe we need to say “thanks” to Facebook and Twitter for getting an evergreen issue on our radars once again. Middle school is hard. Ask any tween. Or rather, watch them and listen to the way they talk about their lives have changed. We place high expectations on them and sometimes forget to give them the scaffolding they need when it comes to social skills. The speed with which damage occurs is the change – but tweens excluding others, gossiping, name-calling, lying and manipulating? Not new. These things are likely to stand the test of time – and will remain as hurdles to growing up with a sense of self-efficacy intact – as long as we have tweens and middle schools.

But how do we protect our tweens from the emotional and sometimes, physical effects of bullying? We may not have the answer, but we do know that any solution must take into account the way that tweens really interact and truly talk. This means seeking to understand why they crave Facebook, Twitter, and inevitably, the next version of each of those communities, versus dismissing them as the bullies themselves.

(photo from

Tags: kids, parents, cyberbullying, MySpace, Youth, tweens, school, Facebook

How to Speak Facebook: Snark

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 25, 2010 @ 04:34 PM
According to YouthBeat data, Facebook is on the rise. In the second half of 2009, the number of kids, tweens and teens on Facebook surpassed that of predecessor, MySpace, for the first time - and we think these numbers will increase until a formidable competitor replaces it.

Much has been made about the way that the latest generation of youth communicate. Just between us BFFs, the way they talk makes me LOL. But as anthropologists and linguists have long understood, the language we use is layered with meaning. And so it is for today's youth's brand of banter...

On the surface, it seems that the shortened speech employed by today's youth shows just how impromptu their elocutions are. It's clear that efficiency competes with eloquence for tweens' and teens' attention. And it also shows that informality rules when it comes to the etiquette of conversation. But if you read between the lines, we think it speaks to a need for insider status that is more important than ever to today's tweens and teens.

In a world where everyone is friends, and all spaces are public, privacy and membership can feel elusive. While Facebook may allow youth to express ideas with unprecedented ease and comfort, it also steals a timeless tool of tween and teen relationship building: the secret.

Enter snark. 

Snark is, by definition, "rudely sarcastic or disrespectful." There's no doubt that sarcasm, wit, and one-upmanship prevail on the homepages of most tweens Thought Bubbleand teens we know. But snark only works when you're talking to a group who gets the joke. Snark isn't often expressed to its target, but to those who agree. And for teens, snark is often a way of sharing with, not shunning, others. Snark is a way to cement connections, as in using the "children" tool to list the names of your unrelated best friends. Or creating groups that require little commitment to join (like "People who don't care if you need a cow to complete your Farmville collection," or "Women who know that a good man is hard to find"). Or simply infusing your status updates with irony...

What does this tell us about tweens and teens besides their Facebook behavior? It tells us that it's more about them than about us. Teen talk isn't trying to taunt us - it's trying to show others they're worthy of those ever-elusive secrets. And while language can certainly exclude, most tweens and teens use language to show that they belong - and that others belong with them.

Tags: MySpace, Youth, Teens, tweens, Facebook, speaking