The following post was inspired by the Crossroads for Kids* panelists. I learned from the experts (high school students themselves) that teachers need to be informed for their students so that they feel like their teachers can understand them & better relate to their media worlds. 

Although parents and staff members often mistake me for a student and ask me for my hall pass, I feel old when I hear my students referencing their lastest tweets, yaks & snaps. I find myself reminiscing about my first leopard-print NOKIA given to me when I went away to college, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM name booboobruinette) and myspace.com. (sidebar: I recently visited my MySpace page and was surprised to find that my Top 8 was still intact. A lesson for the youths-anything you put on the internet really does not go away, even after a decade of inactivity).

Social media is essential for teens to communicate with each other. According to the PEW Research Center’s (2015) recent findings, over 92% of teens are online daily and smartphones are a primary reason for this communication shift. This new wave of connectedness (which has seemingly replaced talking on the phone) allows young people to make plans, minimize FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), create a sense of belonging to a community and provides a space to create their identities (J. Blatt, personal communication, November 3, 2015).

Since I have been out of the classroom for six months, I was curious about the hottest apps youths are currently accessing on their smartphones. The most recent Common Sense Media findings highlight the top 15 social media apps (not including Facebook) that teens often use. Please feel free to click on the link to view them all. I want to dive a bit deeper in to three of the most popular apps, based on my personal experiences working with students, the Crossroads for Kids panelists’ insights and the Growing up in a Media World student presentations.

For each social media app, I have provided two definitions. One is from commonsensemedia.org to give a more academic insight and the other is from  urbandictionary.com to give a more popular culture insight. I was inspired to use urban dictionary because Joe Blatt reminded our class to view media from the perspective of who would most likely use it. And according to urbandictionary.com, urban dictionary is “a place formerly used to find out about slang and now a place that teens with no life use as a burn book to whine about celebrities, their friends, etc., let out their sexual frustrations, show off their racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-(insert religion here) opinions, troll, and babble about things they know nothing about” (Urban Dictionary, 2005, para.1). Therefore, high school students would most likely use this “by the people, for the people”, laugh-out-loud, politically incorrect resource.

#1 What is Snapchat?

Snapchat defined by Common Sense Media: “A messaging app that lets users put a time limit on the pictures and videos they send before they disappear. Most teens use the app to share goofy or embarrassing photos without the risk of them going public. However, there are lots of opportunities to use it in other ways” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.20).

Snapchat defined by Urban Dictionary: “A way to get naked selfies” (Urban Dictionary, 2013, para.1).

What do teachers need to know about Snapchat?: “It’s a myth that Snapchats go away forever. Data is data: Whenever an image is sent, it never truly goes away. It can make sexting seem OK. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing sexy images” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.21).

Below is a media presentation that my fellow classmate Christian van Loenen and I created  which highlights the positive and negative aspects of Snapchat to keep teachers informed for their students.

#2 What is Yik Yak? 

Yik Yak defined by Common Sense Media: A free social-networking app that lets users post brief, Twitter-like comments to the 500 geographically nearest Yik Yak users. Kids can find out opinions, secrets, rumors, and more. Plus, they’ll get the bonus thrill of knowing all these have come from a 1.5-mile radius…” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.24).

Yik Yak defined by Urban Dictionary: “A mobile app college kids use to anonymously talk shit and post witty things to people nearby”(Urban Dictionary, 2014, para.1).

What do teachers need to know about Yik Yak?: “It reveals your location….This app has it all: cyberbullying, explicit sexual content, unintended location-sharing, and exposure to explicit information about drugs and alcohol. Some schools have banned access. Some teens have used the app to threaten others, causing school lockdowns and more. Its gossipy and sometimes cruel nature can be toxic to a high school environment, so administrators are cracking down” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.25).

Here is a news article that we read for Joe Blatt’s class on how Yik Yak can impact a high school climate: http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/04/gossip-app-brought-my-high-school-to-a-halt.html#

Please enjoy a very cool presentation created by my fellow classmates Alex Sucheck & Jonas Sherr which highlights the potential positive and negative impacts of Yik Yak: Anonymous Gossip**

#3 What is Instagram? 

Instagram defined by Common Sense Media: “[Instagram] lets users snap, edit, and share photos and 15-second videos, either publicly or with a private network of followers. It unites the most popular features of social media sites: sharing, seeing, and commenting on photos. It also lets you apply fun filters and effects to your photos, making them look high quality and artistic” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.10).

Instagram defined by Urban Dictionary: “Every hipster’s favorite way to make it look like they take really classy pictures when really they are still using their phones” (Urban Dictionary, 2011, para.1).

What do teachers need to know about Instagram?: “Similar to the way they use Facebook, teens may measure the “success” of their photos-even their self-worth-by the number of likes or comments they receive….Photos and videos shared on Instagram are public unless privacy settings are adjusted. Hashtags and location information can make photos even more visible to communities beyond a teen’s followers if his or her account is public” (Common Sense Media, 2015, para.11).

Shameless plug: follow me on instagram @hillstead.

Please feel free to share what apps your students use and write them in the comments section of this post. I look forward to learning from you.

Talk soon, Erika

P.S. Here is another related works blog I came across on the Common Sense Media site, https://www.graphite.org/blog, a resource for parents and teachers which discusses media’s impact on young people.


*(Crossroads for Kids, personal communication, October 19, 2015).
**(A. Sucheck, personal communication, December 15, 2015).
Common Sense Media. (2015). 15 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook. Retrieved December 17, 2015 from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/15-apps-and-websites-kids-are-heading-to-after-facebook#
Christian van Loenen. (2015, November 8). Snapchat-Erika and Christian [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bPbY_hLL88
Haskell, W. (2014, April 28). A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/04/gossip-app-brought-my-high-school-to-a-halt.html#
PEW Research Center. Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/
Urban Dictionary. (2005). Urban dictionary.  Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=urban+dictionary
Urban Dictionary. (2013). Snapchat. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Snapchat
Urban Dictionary. (2014). Yik Yak. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=yikyak
Urban Dictionary. (2011). Instagram. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Instagram



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