Teens and Smartphone Social Apps

After teaching a Geometry class for socially “plugged-in” ninth graders this summer and spending a few weekends with my smart-phone-using teenage brother, all I can think about is, “Which apps are they using?” and “Do they use their phones this much in school?”

A survey conducted by The Pew Research Center states that in one year, smartphone ownership among teenagers increased from 23% in 2011 to 37% in 2012. Also, about 3 in 4 teens access the Internet on their smartphones or other mobile devices at least occasionally, and 58% of all teens have downloaded apps.

Six of the most popular social apps on smartphones are Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine. According to a recent survey conducted by Garry Tan of nearly 600 teens, aged 13-18, about their use of social apps on a regular basis (several hours a week):

  • 61% use Tumblr
  • 55% use Facebook
  • 22% use Twitter
  • 21% use Instagram
  • 13% use Snapchat.

Vine is the newest of these apps and was not included in this survey. In case you’re not the social type, allow me to give a quick definition of each of these apps. Tumblr allows you to start and follow blogs. Facebook is for creating a profile, keeping up with friends, and posting statuses, pictures, and information all about you.  On Twitter, you can follow celebrities and friends and their up-to-the-minute status updates, or “tweets.” Instagram allows you to add filters to your pictures and videos and share them with your friends. With Snapchat, you can send pictures and videos to friends that automatically get deleted after they are viewed. Vine allows you to post and view six-second, looping videos.

What is the overarching theme here? You. Fame is no longer only for celebrities. Being followed is no longer a reference to stalking. Mystery is no longer so attractive. You can now get recognized, gain more followers, and share every minute of your oh-so-interesting day with the world. You get to share you. And teens love it.

One of the most popular methods of sharing is the selfie. Teens love to take pictures of themselves, post them, and anxiously await feedback, such as number of likes and people who tell them they look gorgeous. This is a way of boosting self-esteem. Teens also love to share photos of coffee, pets, clothing, and anything that might earn them more likes.

How often does a typical teen use these apps? I emailed one of my students, Eddie of Houston, TX, Class of 2016, who responded on his smartphone, naturally. Eddie is not only a typical teenager who hangs out with his friends at school and cannot wait to get his driver’s license, but he is also an app developer and technology guru. I knew he would be excited to discuss the topic of social media with me. Eddie says he checks his social apps every couple of hours, on top of checking his text messages as soon as they arrive.

According to Eddie, Instagram and Vine are the most popular right now among his peers, and Facebook is the least popular of the social apps. He says that most teens he knows would describe Facebook as becoming “very stale, old and boring.” Just like with most social apps, Instagram users try to gain more and more followers. Eddie just reached his 500th follower but wishes he had 1000.

More rampant then ever is the use of smartphones in class. When I was in high school, we could text on our phones during class if we were “sneaky,” but we did not have apps. I cannot imagine how much more time it takes to not only check texts, but also comment on a blog, update a status, post a pic, like a pic and check the numbers of likes and comments on multiple apps, all during class.

The most interesting part of students’ smartphone use is that students think the teachers do not notice. Students think they are sneaky. Eddie admits to using his phone in class, saying it is easy to use it without the teacher noticing. Assuming Eddie is not the only one using his phone in class, I wonder how the teacher feels when he turns around and most students are looking down. What do they think he thinks they are looking at? He knows. He just has a subject to teach and no time to discipline every two minutes. I digress.

Three-quarters of teenagers have cell phones, and more than one-third of all teens have smartphones along with social media apps, says a Pew Research Center survey. With these new methods of social interaction and the craving for social contact already innate in their beings, teenagers are in a “heaven” of social media in 2013.

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