Teens and Facebook

They're Never, Ever Getting Back Together...Or Are They?

I have three teen daughters, and occasionally I find stories or videos online too important for them to miss. This is a critical time in their lives, and you never know what piece of information might make a difference in the women they become.

Because they consider email as relevant as the Pony Express, I usually share these links with them via a private message on Facebook, and I did just that recently when I stumbled on this important video. Or was it this one? I can’t remember, but they needed to see it.

A few days passed and no one mentioned the video. I expected as much from my 18-year-old, who almost certainly is numb to my attempts to expand her horizons, and from my 16-year-old, who hasn’t been still since she received her driver’s license. But my 14-year-old? She almost always indulges her old man. So, finally, I asked them, “What did you think of the video I sent you?”

They seemed … perplexed.

“I sent you a message on Facebook.”

The girls shared a glance best described as “bemused.”

Dad,” said the 16-year-old, their spokesperson by acclamation, “no one uses Facebook anymore.”

Now, contrary to the opinions of these daughters of mine, I am not a caveman. As a communications professional, I know a thing or two about social media and I’m well aware of the ongoing narrative about declining teen use of Facebook. It’s real and it’s dramatic. Or, it’s real and it’s not so bad. The statistics are interesting in the way statistics tend to be, which is to say they tell part of a story—or, in this case, part of a chapter of a story.

Remember, Facebook is barely 10 years old and in its early years was for college students only. It wasn’t until 2006 that anyone with an email address could join. Do we really have enough data to make any definitive statements about teens and Facebook—especially when there are new platforms vying for their attention every day? It’s certainly safe to say teens are using Facebook less, but is it an exodus or a break?

One thing about teens I know all too well: If parents are around, the kids don’t want to be. And parents (and grandparents) are all over Facebook. It’s only natural that teens would be seeking out social platforms where they’re less likely to bump into Mom and Dad. Also, most teens live in a small, self-absorbed bubble. They’re less interested in keeping in touch with family members and friends around the world and more interested in sharing selfies with the kids they see at school every day.

Of course, the research tells us teens aren’t abandoning Facebook completely. They can’t; not when those Neanderthal adults insist on using it. Teachers, coaches, band directors, club leaders and even college admissions officers love to communicate through Facebook, where they can reach kids and their parents in one fell swoop. So teens remain engaged, however reluctantly.

That tenuous engagement seems significant. Look at the usage numbers again. Growth in the 25-34 demographic is robust, and those are the first-generation Facebook teens, all grown up. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues as today’s Facebook-fatigued kids mature, scatter to the winds, and eventually start families of their own. After all, at some point most of us learn to appreciate and enjoy our parents again, and sharing space—or cyberspace—with them doesn’t seem so bad. Will that translate to Facebook? Only time will tell, but I’m optimistic.

So what does all this mean for today’s communicators? If you’re trying to reach teens, learn about Instagram and Snapchat and make sure you’re doing it right on Twitter, but I wouldn’t abandon Facebook altogether. They’re there, lurking, and they won’t stay teens forever.


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