Facebook ‘dead and buried’ with teens (or, why ‘spying on’ or ‘friending’ your child online is not the answer)


Early 90s ‘Air Jordans’

In the mid-90s, sports shoe makers had a big problem. For years, sneakers had been their biggest sellers, with models such as Nike’s ‘Air Jordan’ and Reebok’s ‘Pump’ being wildly popular with teenagers, not just for playing sport, but as a fashion statement as well. But all of a sudden, kids stopped buying them. Shoes that were only very recently highly desired items for teenagers became fashion poison, almost overnight.

So what happened? In short, sneakers became so popular that even parents started going out and buying them.  And once parents started wearing them, that was the end of them being ‘cool’. If mum and dad are wearing a pair of Nikes down to the shops, their kids hardly want to be seen in the same.

Within months, 'Vans' were the coolest thing on the block

Within months, ‘Vans’ were the coolest thing on the block

This situation brought on the rise of the ‘skate shoe’. Skate shoes had existed for years, but their popularity had been limited to the skateboarding community (hence the name), and therefore were seen as ‘alternative’, and so were perfectly placed to become the next ‘cool’ thing for teenagers. Within a matter of months, ‘Vans’ had replaced ‘Nike’ as the shoe to be seen in.

So why are we talking about shoes when this is meant to be a post about Facebook? Put simply: all this is exactly what appears to be happening to Facebook.

The recent Global Social Media Impact Study in Europe observed those aged 16 to 18 in eight countries for 15 months and found Facebook use was in sharp decline.  It claimed that Facebook was “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried” and that young people now see the site as “uncool”, mainly because, you guessed it, their parents and older relatives are now using it.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London said, “Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.”

This study has since been challenged by those producing data that shows the majority of young people still have active Facebook accounts. That may be true, but the people arguing this are missing perhaps the most important point of what this report found. And its particularly important for parents.

The study did not say that young people weren’t using Facebook at all. If found that it was being used very differently by teenagers to how it was a few years ago. Facebook is now used by teenagers as a way to stay in touch with older members of their family or siblings or friends that were overseas, rather than a platform to engage in social interaction with their mates.

In other words, just like with shoes, parents are ‘onto’ Facebook, and so their kids are ‘onto’ the next thing. And just like with shoes, the next thing has already taken over.

In our next post, we’ll look at some of the ‘next things’, such as Instagram and Snapchat. In the meantime, the important point to note out of all of this is that ‘friending’ your child on Facebook does not mean you know what they ‘get up to online’.

I’ve had many parents, when I’ve been discussing cybersafety, say confidently that they either ‘spy’ on their child’s Facebook account or make their child ‘friend’ them, and therefore they know everything they are doing and saying online. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In most cases, parents haven’t even heard of the social networks their children are ‘really’ using. In other cases, they may have discovered the ‘next thing’, but are are being duped by ‘fake’ accounts that their child has set up. Last year, in a survey of our year 5 and 6 students, we found that not only were a large number of them using the photo sharing site Instagram, but that many had more than one account. Not surprisingly, this second (or even third!) account was news to their parents.

Like all the posts on this blog, this one is not designed to shock or scare, but merely to ensure parents are informed and are putting into place effective strategies to help keep their children safe, not falling into the trap of thinking that ‘spying on’ or ‘friending’ their child is the answer.

Because just like in the fashion world, when parents ‘arrive’, kids quickly move onto something else!



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