A Parent's Guide to Social Media: What Are Tweens and Teens Using Right Now?

I finally joined Instagram, and then I fell down a rabbit hold of tween social media usage. Some of what I found was innocuous, some was not.

As soon as I joined, the app used my phone's contact list to tell me who I might want to follow. Because many of my kids' friends (and their parents) are in my contact list, Instagram had plenty of recommendations for me. The vast majority of both kids and adults that I found did not have their accounts set to private. By looking at the lists of who each kid was following, or was followed by, I was able to jump around pretty easily and see the photos of tons of kids I know, and kids I don't know.

From Instagram, I fell down a rabbit hole of social media sites. The Instagram profiles link to ask.fm pages. The ask.fm pages link to Twitter. Twitter leads to Tumblr. It's a baklava of social media out there, and the layers never stop accumulating.

By searching Instagram for my kids' school, I found a group where kids submit their photos to be "matched up" with a boy or girl from their grade. It sounds horrible but it's actually pretty innocent; the digital equivalent of notes I probably passed in middle school and high school. The difference is that when it turns sour, and a kid doesn't like who he's "matched up" with, someone's humiliation is that much more public. That's when things can slide easily from cyber fun to cyberbullying.

The endless parade of duck-faced selfies was to be expected, but I wasn't expecting to see girls as young as 11 or 12 posing in shorty-shorts and cami tops, looking over their shoulders and popping out their booties. I wasn't expecting boys their age to be responding with "dat ass" and other, much more explicit, comments.

I wasn't expecting to find a 12-year-old girl's description of getting high, or a public discussion of what kinds of sexual activities two young girls might be participating in together. (Note: the girls in question were participating in said discussion.)

But mostly what I wasn't expecting was this: that kids I know full well to be smart kids with caring parents are doingevery single thing they've been told not to do on the Internet: give out the name of the school they attend and the town that they live in. Give out their phone numbers. Give out their names. Many of the kids were using not just their real names, but their real first, middle, and last names as their user names.

I use social media every day, for both personal and professional reasons. There's nothing inherently bad about social media. But it does need limits, it does need privacy protections in place, and it does need monitoring.

Case in point: Two girls in Florida have been arrested in connection with the suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who had been cyberbullied.

Police investigating the case say that after Rebecca's death, a 14-year-old girl posted on Facebook, "Yes, I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a f-."

The police's image of the Facebook post had more than 30 likes, more than 30 shares and over 200 comments, according to ABC News.

Related: The 20 worst parenting overshares on Facebook

Of course, social media is more than just Facebook, and parents need to know what their kids are using, and how they're using it. Parents should know that, like adults, kids are likely to be using more than one platform. Unlike adults, however kids are more likely to have multiple Facebook accounts, and multiple Instagram accounts; kids may have one page that's "parent-friendly" and one where they post everything else. Or, they may just use the accounts for different things: one Instagram account might be for photos of friends, another might be for collecting and sharing My Little Pony images.

I researched, I joined, and I talked to teens and tweens to find out which platforms and apps are currently in use to put together a basic primer for parents. For more detailed information on any of these apps and platforms, I've provided links to the sites themselves, which all have FAQ pages. Another good resource for parents is Common Sense Media.


Pheed is a social media platform with multiple capabilities: users can share texts, photos, videos, audio tracks, voice-notes and live broadcasts. Users can also monetize their feeds, assuming they have something so interesting/fabulous to share that people are willing to pay for it. Pheed is the first company to introduce live stream pay-per-view functionality to mobile devices, according to Forbes. The app absolutely targets the young: Pheed told Mashable that 81 percent of its user base is between age 14 and 25. Although Pheed is only for users age 13 and up, users can moderate their content under ratings like G, PG, PG-13, and R. However, Pheed relies on its users to rate their own content.


Ask.fm is a site where users create a profile page, and then other users ask them questions--either anonymously or using a user name. I'm pretty sure the attraction here is that if people are asking you questions, you feel important and interesting. The downside, obviously, is that it's a place for tweens and teens to anonymous say the most horrible things imaginable to each other. There are a handful of celebrities on it, so maybe it's fun to ask celebrities things and have them (or possibly their secretaries) answer you. But generally speaking, there is nothing good happening on ask.fm. I can't emphasize enough how foul the language is, how mean it gets, and how quickly it devolves into an abyss of awfulness.


Kik is an instant messaging service, which means it's like texting, except you don't have to give out your phone number. That seems like a good thing on the face of it: you're not using up minutes and you're keeping your phone number private. The thing is, it's pretty easy to monitor your kid's texting usage: a quick look at your cell phone bill tells you the numbers they're contacting, the numbers contacting them, and the time of day (math class?!?). It's impossible to monitor your kid's usage on kik. Besides the messaging capability, kik users can search for and share YouTube videos, reddit images, sketches, and more.


WhatsApp is another instant messaging service, but it allows for both text and voice. You can also create groups to communicate with large or small groups of people all at once.


Tumblr is a microblogging site that allows users to share multimedia content. The short-form blogs are usually streams of images and GIFs, with short captions. Users can set tumblr blogs to private or leave them open to the public, in which case people can leave comments anonymously or using a user ID. Tumblr blogs are quicker and easier to set up and maintain than more traditional blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger and have a younger demographic: according to Nielsen, about 13 percent of Tumblr visitors are under 18.


Similar to Skype, ooVoo is a videochat platform that uses VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). You can chat with up to 12 friends at once, and also drag YouTube videos into the platform, so that groups of people can watch together. Like all the other platforms, there's nothing inherently wrong with ooVoo, although I'm not thrilled with their "Survive Family Time" ad that shows a teen using ooVoo at the dinner table. One potential problem is that ooVoo can also be used to "make new friends!" and "mingle," according to its own website. Another concern is that ooVoo's privacy capability is a little wonky--you can block people from contacting you, unless you're also Facebook friends, for example. The fact that ooVoo's privacy settings are connected to Facebook is a red flag to me.


Wanelo (the name comes from WAnt, NEed, LOve) is an "online shopping community." It's somewhat similar to Pinterest, except that instead of collecting craft ideas you're collecting a wish list of stuff you want. With Wanelo, you can actually click to buy all the stuff you see. Aside from encouraging mass consumerism, it's probably harmless unless you give your kid your credit card.

-By Joslyn Gray

For 9 more social media platforms tweens and teens are using right now, visit Babble!

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