At The White Hatter, we believe that preteens and teens have a much better understanding of the online world, especially when it comes to effectively communicating with each other. They are the ones that really take advantage of all the great things the internet and social media have to offer us. Who better to consult with about the current trends, interests, and benefits (as well as the possible dangers) of existing online and leaving a digital footprint than the generation that has grown up immersed in it? By putting a call out to our followers for teens to volunteer as a part of our Youth Advisory Team, we hoped to gain valuable information and trade ideas with today’s social media/digital “superusers” because we know they know it best. We wanted to talk specifically about cyberbullying, apps, and social networks, things the students think people (especially adults) should know about the online world, and what we, The White Hatter team, should teach in our presentations. By working together and by these youth helping us to understand the online world as it is experienced by a current-day teen, we wanted to be able to offer more up-to-date and relatable tools and solutions for those concerns and issues we encounter and teach about.
The most commonly used apps among the students we interviewed were Snapchat and Instagram. “Step up your game with a modern voice & text chat app” boasts Discord, an app that is often used for gaming and communication. We were told that the communication on Discord is usually based around a specific game or fandom, but not always. Discord offers a voice chat option and we got a few responses claiming that they frequently make use of this feature with their friends when they prefer not to type. Most teens said they were on TikTok and that it’s a popular place for entertainment among their friends. Not many stated they had ever made TikToks or spent time producing/editing any videos on that app. Out of all 8 youth, only two stated that they use an app/site called DeviantArt. We are familiar with this site, as it’s been around for many years and is a popular place for artists to share their drawings and other work with others in a community. All participants said they’re on YouTube regularly, which was no surprise to us. And of course, Instagram. Everyone was on Instagram as well, and they claim it’s mostly used for sharing memes and “memeable content” with their friends. Group chats on Instagram are also quite popular. From our chat with these teens, it seems that Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are the most popularly used apps right now among their friend groups, and the growing use of Discord for different communications is worth noting as well.
Adults on Social Media
“What frustrates you the most about adults and how they use social media?”
The students responded with pretty solid examples of how we adults irritate them with some of our behaviour online. Of course, there were complaints about “the cringe” that they find a lot of adults and parents posting online. By this, they mean anything embarrassing, uncomfortable, or out of place posted by the “boomer” community online (e.g. minion memes, chain letters, fake news, spam). From what we can see, this is just generational differences in humour and media consumption. Generally, older generations use the internet differently than younger ones who have been born and raised in an age of technology and computers. The number one complaint was about surveillance or “nosiness” from parents online. We know that there has to be some level of supervision when it comes to helping a teen become a good digital citizen. There comes a point where trust is earned and supervision should be reduced, but until this point, younger teens may need regular check-ins. Even still, we understand where these teens are coming from because they also claimed that when family or other older adults came across their social media or content online, they often “judge before they learn.” One individual explained how it makes her upset when she sees her family sharing a lot about their political beliefs very publicly on their Facebook page. “My family forces everyone into their own beliefs on social media. They expect us to conform online.”
One more interesting comment from a participant on the advisory team was about parents posting pictures of their children online. This one teen states, “All my relatives use social media. My dad has pictures of me on Facebook of when I was little and when I graduated high school. If he wants those memories for himself, sure. But publicly? No.” We agree that parents should be careful of what they share online when it comes to photos of their children/teens. Something that might be cute today, could be embarrassing and used as fodder for bullies in the future.
“Are your parents participating with you in social media? If not, why? Would you like them to?”
The overall response to this question was mixed. One person said, “My mom has IG (Instagram) and doesn’t use it. She does have Facebook and I wish she participated in stuff with me more. I try to talk to her and stuff, but she doesn’t respond, and she leaves me on read.” Many teens seemed happy to have their parents participating online with them and encouraged it, but others expressed concerns about what their parents or other adults might think of what they post when they see it. “Some stories that I post have swear words and my mom would go crazy if she saw them” said one young person. Some people said their parents have one platform like Facebook or Instagram and they’re okay with it, but they wouldn’t want them to be any more involved in their online life. One person said, “My mom and dad have IG (Instagram) and neither parent follows my finsta. They seem cool with it.” A “finsta” or “Fake Instagram” is a way for younger people to have a separate account where they post more candid, realistic photos and thoughts. Usually, a person’s finsta is limited to a small number of followers and it’s usually a private account, only accessible by a follow request getting accepted by the owner of the account.
School and Technology
Next, we asked, “How are schools best using technology to help in the learning process?”
From what the Youth Advisory Team told us, some teachers allow music in class, others do not. The students said it helps them study or get work done to listen to their own music sometimes. A lot of classes allow use of their phone for directed study. Some students were not permitted their phones at all in school, though. One interesting thing was that the students claim to like Google Classroom over Microsoft OneNote and OneDrive. They wish their schools would invest more funds and time researching what tech to buy. All students made a point to say how bad “Old Dell laptops” are and how they wish they had Chromebooks or something more modern.
Our discussion then switched to the topic of sexting. We asked the participants “how do you define sexting?” We received an assortment of responses, some addressed legal issues, moral concerns, relationships, and porn. There was a unanimous agreement that not everyone their age is engaging in sexting. Circumstance and context greatly directed responses in a way akin to stereotypes. Some responses talked about how “for certain groups of teenagers” sexting happens all the time, such as the “popular kids” or how it is typically guys sending nude pictures to girls. One person directly stated how they don’t like sexting and how “it feels wrong” to them because they were “raised the right way.” Another person explained how sexting is “gross.” There was a general agreement among older teens in the group that sexting typically took part in romantic relationships, more so for those in long-term relationships who want to have further intimacy. Many participants expressed how regardless of how sexting was being facilitated, they hated getting random messages like that from strangers or people they know.
Different examples of sexting were expressed, ranging from sending nude photos, having a sexual text-based conversation, FaceTiming while nude, provocative photos or phrases, consensual or non-consensual conversations, and links to porn sites. Additionally, one person also said how automated messaging bots that link you to porn sites was also a specific type of sexting.
Out of curiosity, we also asked, “Do middle schoolers and high schoolers use Tinder, Bumble, and other similar meetup/hookup apps?”
Some students said “probably,” and others recalled students using Tinder back as young as grade 5 or 6. Generally, the answer was no, but one teen brought up an app called “Youbo.” They describe Youbo as “hookups for friendships. It quickly goes into a hookup app even though it’s advertised for friendship.”
“What do you see as the biggest dangers online?”
Many people responded saying “porn” because they get popups and don’t know how to react to them. They said some of their friends didn’t know not to click on these popups. Another common theme in our discussions about online dangers was the “disinhibition effect” which is when people behave differently online than they would in-person because they feel safer or shielded by their screen and the internet. There was mention of the dangers associated with strangers contacting you or oversharing so that strangers are able to learn too much about you. It was also fascinating to note that most students were worried about posting something they might consider cringe only for it to come back to haunt them later on in life. They don’t want to regret what they share online. There was a large discussion around bullying/cyberbullying and how it is an obvious danger online, especially for teens.
What The White Hatter Can Do
Finally, we really wanted to know what we could add to our presentations when we go in to speak to students, teachers, and parents at different schools. We asked, “What do you think we here at The White Hatter should be talking about in our presentations?”
The general consensus across the whole Youth Advisory Team was that they want us to teach about the “good stuff” that’s going on online with our youth. They want us to shine a light on their artwork and to show examples of how to use tech for digital art. They want us to keep pushing mental health resources for teens who may be at-risk or in crisis because they see a real need for it and want everyone to have access to these tools if they need them. One student mentioned how important it is to emphasize Copywrite law when it comes to writing essays or taking inspiration from art they see online. Lastly, they discussed how they want us to make sure we provide resources for teachers and school counsellors. They said their schools don’t always have counselors free to talk or listen to and schools with only one counsellor for hundreds of students make it difficult for help to be accessible to everyone.
Some other interesting things we noted over the span of our 2-hour meeting:
Teens don’t seem to be using text messages or iMessage as much as they are using different social media platforms to communicate. Many simply rely on Instagram’s direct messaging (DM) feature, or they will catch up with each other on Discord. When we asked, “How many hours do you participate online daily?” we got a lot of different responses. Many teens said that the number of hours they spend online each day depends on whether it’s a school day, or a weekend. As expected, they said they spend more time online during the evenings and weekends. One person said they average 3 hours a day during the week, but an upwards of 7-10 hours a day on weekends, holidays, and other non-school days. One of the strangest, but more fascinating things we learned was that there is an underground black market for elevator passes at least a few schools in Canada. A couple of students stated that they knew other students had found out how to replicate the keys and were selling them to their peers who didn’t want to use the stairs.
This was a very eye-opening experience for everyone involved. We would love to hold a couple YAT (Youth Advisory Team) meetings a year to make sure we stay on top of trends online and so that we can learn from each other regularly. Thank you so much to the participants of our 2019 Youth Advisory Team virtual meeting. All of your input and conversations are extremely valuable to us and we hope you got to learn even a fraction of what we did during the time we had the pleasure of interviewing you. We look forward to more Youth Advisory Team meetings going forward in 2020!
The White Hatter Team