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The Most Popular Apps for Teenagers: What’s Hot, What’s Not

What’s Hot, What’s Not: Top Apps For Teens

By Laura Richards

What social media apps do your teens love? Probably not the same ones they did last year, and probably not the same ones you do. It’s tricky to keep up, but parents should make the effort.

Social media is “a wonderful source of learning and insight, and a great way to encounter individuals and ideas whose paths you’d otherwise never have crossed,” says Scott Steinberg, author of The Modern Parent’s Guide to Facebook and Social Networks. But it can also have pitfalls. Like all technology, the value of social media depends on how it’s used, which can be challenging for parents. Steinberg counsels parents to keep up with developments in social media  and commit to being involved in their teen’s social media usage.

Most Popular Apps for Teens

According to new research from the University of Chicago, the top social media apps for teens age 13-17 are Instagram (76% of surveyed teens use it) and Snapchat (75%). Facebook and Twitter are less popular, with 66% and 47% of the teens reporting that they use each app. According to many parents, even if their teens have Facebook or Twitter accounts, the accounts lie mostly dormant. Texas dad David Conner, for example, reports that his teenage daughter calls Twitter “a ‘distant third’ for keeping up with famous people, news, and world stuff.”

The big social media trend seems to be in messaging: 91% of teens use the text messaging that’s built into their phone, but 40% also use downloaded messaging apps, which may often include additional features not included in traditional texts, and which may fly under their parents’ radar.

So, what are the most popular apps for teenagers, and what do parents need to know?

Snapchat

Photo and video messaging platform with expiring content. Users can share events of the day with friends. Users can access in-app media content from outlets ranging from CNN to Cosmopolitan.

Pros: Easy to use. Fun features like photo doodling, captions, and filters.

Cons: Content doesn’t completely “disappear,” but can live on in screenshots and data recovery. Teens who believe that snaps disappear may engage in risky or inappropriate behavior.

Instagram

Platform to share photos and videos with followers.Add and edit photos and short videos to share with friends and followers. Users try to gain followers and get content “liked.”

Pros: Users can send private messages or make accounts private to opt out of Instagram’s typically public posts. Teens with unique interests may find community with like-minded users.

Cons: Content is public unless the user changes privacy settings. Location information can be displayed, depending on phone and Instagram settings. Teens may feel pressure to present themselves in a way that leads to accumulating “likes.”

Kik

Messaging platform to send text, images, and video. Offers a wide range of activities, including surfing the web from within the app, sketching, chatting with strangers, making in-app purchases, and sending virtual greeting cards.

Pros: Unlimited texts are free, besides normal data usage charges.

Cons: Strangers can start conversations. Kik has allegedly been used in predatory crimes. Users often post their Kik usernames on other social media, which may give strangers access to a teen’s profile. Kik does not monitor or censor user content.

WhatsApp

Platform for text, image, video, and audio messaging as well as voice and video calls.

Users can easily connect with people from around the world.

Pros: Unlimited messages. No international calling plan needed to connect with relatives or friends abroad.

Cons: Pushes users to add “friends,” and your teen (and their phone number) can easily be added to group chats with friends-of-friends without consent.

WeChat

Feature-rich messaging and call platform. Offers fun in-app games, stickers, and “Friend Radar” to find nearby users.

Pros: As with WhatsApp, teens can connect with friends around the world.

Cons: Strangers can contact users by adding their WeChat ID, unless the user manually turns off friend adds. Some features show location.

Consider creating your own accounts in your kids’ favorite social media apps, friending or following your kids, and keeping an eye on what’s happening. But create some personal limits. “You as a parent need to also know your boundaries, just as you do in real life,” says Steinberg. That means no embarrassing posts about your kids.

“Talk to your kids about what they’re doing on social networks, as well as whom they’re interacting with,” says Steinberg. “Using social networks as a starting point for discussion can lead to great and highly informative conversations with your kids.”

Above all, know what they’re using and keep the door open for communication, says Steinberg. “Let them know where to turn for help if it’s needed—and make sure they know they can trust you to hear them out, offer positive insights, and not freak out when challenges present themselves.”

Laura Richards

Laura Richards is a writer, journalist, and mother of four. She resides in the Boston area and has written for many outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe Magazine, Redbook, House Beautiful, Martha Stewart Living, and is a frequent Your Teen contributor.