Teenagers’ rules for playing the social media game


We talk a lot about setting rules for teens’ media use, but when it comes to social media, teens are making their own rules.

In her article for wired.com, Mary Choi reports on her time spent with five high schoolers, and what she learned about the rules of playing the social media game. You can read the full article at the link above, but I wanted to pull out some of the ‘rules’ that I found most interesting. You’ll see that these rules appear to replace the social rules that we as parents had for our more face-to-face interactions as kids.

For example, there are implicit rules for flirting on social media. If you like a few Instagram pictures, and the other person likes your’s back, that’s like making eye contact. The exchange of heart eyes is evidence of mutual encouragement to keep flirting. A thought bubble means someone is thinking about you. And here’s my favorite–a smiley face in return to a comment or post is not good, because it actually means the other person is not interested.

Social hierarchy is developed and maintained via social media. One girl reports that social hierarchy is based on your Facebook likes, likes you get on Instagram, and the people you pose with in photos.

One rule teens don’t ever want to break is called a “deep like.” This is going back into someone’s past posts to see old pictures. To “deep like” someone is creepy and voyeuristic.

The list of rules goes on. Many of the rules are unwritten, and they take time and effort for kids to learn. Apparently, knowing the rules of social media is an important part of social integration for today’s youth. And the rules are constantly changing.

While this research isn’t what I’d call empirical, it gives an interesting inside-look into the social lives of youth. What it means, I’m not sure yet. The next step for me is to ask my kids about their own social media rules. I’m sure they’ll surprise me.

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