Teens can be confusing. And I don’t mean that in the dismissive-of-all-teenagers way. As someone who writes fictionalized versions of young adults, it’s my job to make sure I understand the people and the culture I’m writing about. But how hard can that really be? I was a teen once…not too long ago…ten years ago…when I was a freshman in college.
If you’ve ever opened up Snapchat and tried to navigate your way around the app’s interface, or found yourself baffled by the recent This American Life episode where a group of girls broke down the intricacies of what Instagram likes and comments actually mean, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Culture changes at the speed of light. And if there’s anyone heralding that change from generation to generation, it’s the teenagers.
As it happens, I’m in luck, and so is everyone else who wants to understand the alien brain that is The American Teenager: Business Insider recently spoke to 60 young people between the ages of 13 and 19 from across the country to try and get a feel for teen culture these days. Sixty may not sound like a very large sample size, but it’s certainly a start.
First, The Not-So-Surprising Stuff
Teens love their phones. Most of the teens Business Insider talked to received their first smartphones around age eleven and spend, on average, six hours a day on them—both in and out of school.
As for apps, Instagram and Snapchat are huge—and not just for communicating with friends. Last year, Pew Research talked to 100 teenagers about the use of social media in romantic relationships. Nearly half of those 100 teens used social media to flirt with people they were interested in—liking photos, leaving comments, and sharing articles with them. “…the main way you’re going to know is like when they first say ‘hey,’” one girl explained. “How many y’s they put on their ‘hey.’ Yeah, they do that a lot.”
Entertainment-wise, teens stream television more than anything else, with Netflix being the clear winner among streaming services. “Netflix is life,” one sixteen-year-old told Business Insider.
And as far as celebrities go, the teens surveyed listed some pretty common names: Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Jimmy Fallon, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner were among those mentioned as favorites.
The Surprising Stuff (Maybe)
First off, Facebook is passé among teenagers these days. Which might not come as a surprise to some. In the words of one sixteen-year-old: “I use Facebook, but I feel like I can’t be myself on it because my parents and my friends’ parents are my Facebook friends.” Another teenager in the Pew study explained why it’s bad for relationships: “I have a lot of family on Facebook. Like my grandparents and stuff. And my grandparents always like to comment on my statuses…So I don’t like to make [relationships] so public.”
In fact, a lot of the Pew teens surveyed didn’t like the public aspect of social media when it came to showcasing relationships. 69% agreed that that too many people are able to see what’s going on in their relationship on social media.
Interestingly, Vine and YouTube accounts are also passé, although 75% of the teens Business Insider surveyed say they visit the sites to watch others’ videos, and listed YouTube and Vine stars such as Brendon Urie, Shawn Mendes, Connor Franta, Troye Sivan and Tyler Oakley among their favorite celebrities. (Seriously, have you heard of any of those human beings?)
Speaking of surprising celebrity favorites, Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of the mega-uber-huge Broadway musical “Hamilton,” was right up there with Drake and Niki Minaj in teens’ minds. (And I’d give some sort of a “Hamilton” reference here, except that I’ve never listened to it. Please don’t crush me, young folks.)
As for the Kardashians, the surveyed teens had some surprisingly rational things to say about the family: “I don’t really pay attention to them because there’s always something negative going on with them,” one teen said. “Except for Kendall—she stays out of it and I like her for that, even though she’s not a Kardashian.” Still others voiced their dislike for the family, while one teen expressed regret at how often they’re publicly shamed.
Regarding favorite apps, Twitter was a popular, if surprising, choice. As one nineteen-year-old explained, “I am the kind of person who needs to get out my thoughts, and Twitter may be like shouting into the void but at least I am heard and often validated by my peers.” Another commented on the ability to “somewhat interact with celebrities.”
Ever heard of Neko Atsume, After School, or Wishbone? Those are three lesser-known favorite apps among teens. The first is a Japanese app that allows users to collect cats (that’s actually what neko atsume means), while the second is a teen-specific social network that allows users to post anonymously to their school’s board, and the third is an app version of the old Would You Rather game.
The teens also dished on slang—what’s in and what’s out. Basically, once Buzzfeed gets to something, it’s out. So all you people still peppering your speech with “bae” and “on fleek,” you might as well just throw it all the way back and start calling things “groovy” again.
What’s in: YASSSSSS, goals, hype, lit, shortening “very” to “v”. How to use this new post-millennial slang in conversation? Apparently we’re supposed to figure out how to use it on our own because the teens Business Insider spoke to didn’t go into that much detail on it. V annoying. (See what I just did there, kiddos?)
So, yes. Teen culture is different than when you or I were in high school. And here, I could reminisce on The Old Days, when Facebook was just a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, and I would correspond with my crushes via Instant Messenger. When it was just me and my candy bar Nokia that lit up on the sides when a call came in. But that just makes me sound like an old fart.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to start my cat collection. Goals. (Did I just use that correctly?)