Not My Teen: #Instafame

By Stop Medicine Abuse Posted December 16, 2014 under Not My Teen

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at common teen posting behavior on social media networks.

In recent years, teens are going above and beyond (for better or worse) to achieve fame on social networks. Aptly named the “selfie generation,” today’s youth are publicly offering up their online personas to thousands – even millions – of followers through carefully taken selfies (digital self-portraits), gifs and hashtags. Teens build their own personal brands by displaying their digital lives (whether they are authentic or fabricated) to their followers, who are commonly comprised of both peers and total strangers. The implications of this type of engagement are of special interest to most parents, who are often not as plugged into social media platforms and find it more and more challenging to monitor their teens online. Not only is it important for parents to know what online platforms teens are using, but also how these platforms, like Instagram, may influence risky behavior online.

In a study entitled #Instafame conducted by the kidsmediacentre at Centennial College in Toronto, researchers sought to decode teen online behavior patterns, particularly of those teens who curate their digital lives in order to gain attention and fame. Researchers took a special interest in the use of “selfies” as tools for emotional expression and enticement, as well as the concepts of privacy and self-image.

During the study, a group of middle and high school teens completed three exercises to determine how they would describe life as a teen, common trends they’ve noticed on Instagram and their reactions to the online postings of other teens. Responses revealed common trends and reactions based on gender; in particular, several participants agreed that gratuitous selfies perpetuated objectification, especially of young women.

Teens in the study also reacted to other teens’ posts with concerns about privacy and the lasting-effects and consequences that would result from certain posts, such as a young woman brazenly showing off substance abuse. In fact, participants noted what they perceived to be “desperate” measures that other teens would take in order to gain followers or popularity on their social networks. In an age when teens’ online footprints can be easily traced, incriminating posts displaying illegal or dangerous activities such as substance abuse can have a profound rippling effect on a teen’s future.

Interestingly, researchers found that youths actually do appreciate privacy, but in the sense that they use privacy settings to limit parental monitoring while maintaining their public persona. Furthermore, “Instafamers” are aware of – but unfazed by – the risks of identity theft and cyberbullying, and instead prioritize building their following.  Thus, parents are finding it to be more difficult to monitor and mediate their teens’ online activities, which are often hidden behind elaborate screen names and privacy settings.

It’s important for parents to be aware of trends in teens’ technology use in order to recognize and protect teens from negative online influences and behavior Remember to check in with your teen if you suspect he or she is engaging in risky behavior online, including posting risqué content online that may showcase dangerous and potentially illegal activities. Take time this month to sit down with your teen to ensure he or she is using technology smartly and safely.