Teens have always found ways to communicate that exclude adults. When I was a teen, we used slang terms like ‘fresh’ and ‘word’ to speak to each other. Cell phones were only used by the select few who were wealthy, pagers were still cool, and email was a brand new idea that was mainly used by people in corporate America to send office memos.

Teens in the 21st century have the advantage of having amazing technology at their disposal to use for communication. Chat rooms used to scare parents in the past. Now teens can text friends all night long, access the internet 24 hours a day with smart phones, or talk to friends who’ve moved away using webcams that are a standard feature on laptops. Social networking sites are now the place where the latest gossip is shared, or the newest ideas are exchanged. Our lives are no longer shared only with those who can come visit us at home, they are shared with friends (and strangers) around the world in cyberspace.

We’ve had previous posts on Keeping Your Teens Safe Online and texting compromising pictures (aka ‘sexting’).  In this post I’ll highlight some of the popular social networking sites teens are using to communicate. I am by no means an expert in social media and will quickly admit that there are going to be more sites popping up out there that are not on this list. Popularity is constantly changing and by next month, the top site may have moved to the bottom of the list!

Facebook – with an estimated 750,000,000 new visits each month, this is by far the most popular site. Teens, parents, even grandparents have a Facebook page. It can be as detailed as an online diary, complete with minute by minute updates, pictures, and events or as simple as a go-to page for a non-profit group.

Twitter – a distant second with 250,00,000 new visits each month. This site is the best example of how powerful a few words can be. Each tweet is limited to 140 characters. That’s not much space, but people give updates on births, divorces, fashion trends, and what they ate for lunch. Though users of this site are typically older, many teens tweet as well.

LinkedIn – I doubt many teens will use this site, though it’s the 3rd most popular. This is a place to connect with other people in your chosen profession. Use LinkedIn to get a promotion, or network to find a job.

MySpace – When I was in college, this was the top social networking site. It’s still somewhat popular (especially amongst teens), but many people are using other places to network.

The Google + Though this was supposed to be the next Facebook, popularity hasn’t caught on like expected. It’s still high on the list, but only time will tell if it will remain popular.

Up and Coming…

Tumblr- As I said initially, teens have always found ways to connect with other teens that elude adults. One of the newer popular sites is Tumblr. This is more of a microblogging site than a social networking site (picture our teenology101 blog with short Twitter-like posts and collages of pictures). As more parents ask their teens to ‘friend’ them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter, I imagine more teens will turn to new sites like Tumblr where they can attempt to escape the watchful eyes of adults.

So what can parents do?

Communicate your expectations regarding the use of technology. If you don’t want them on Facebook all night, make it a house rule to charge cell phones in a common area (that means your cellphone too) and keep laptops in a specific shared location.

Check in on them when they’re using the computer. Look at their webpage or Tumblr account when they’re logged in occasionally.

Remind your teen that what gets shared on the internet is there FOREVER. They should not post their address, phone number, social security number, or other personal identifying information on the web. The same goes for nude and semi-nude pictures or photos of alcohol and drug use.