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I admit, I was a child of the 80’s – the era of Rubik’s Cube, Atari (Pac Man!) and DOS-based adventure games. Back in the day, I was about as much of a nerd as you could get, so watching the behaviors of kids today – now that we’re in a world where digital’s gone mainstream – is a bit surreal.
I have two teenage daughters, so I get a front-row seat to how kids behave both on and offline using technology. I also count myself lucky that my girls don’t partake in some of the more obscene or obnoxious behaviors many teens these days take part in.
Through these observations, both of my own kids and the behaviors of their friends, I’ve collected a list of the most unusual (and sometimes the most disturbing) things that my kids do online, that – try as I might – I just can’t wrap my head around.
1. Taking Selfies
You know what, I get it. I mean, as Harry rightfully pointed out in his article on selfies, since the dawn of time people have been taking self-portraits – even on cave walls.
This is absolutely true, however the quality of those self-portraits is clearly taking a nasty nose-dive in recent years. What teens have done is brought in the duck-lips factor. This started out as a phenomenon, and now it’s just an epidemic.
It’s honestly getting to be like some kind of Pavlov’s Dog syndrome where, if you simply take out a phone and point it at a teen, they instantly make duck-lips – it’s almost like an involuntary reaction.
And the most vain, disturbing selfies that are hitting Facebook and Twitter streams these days is the belly-in-the-mirror show off (usually combined with the duck-face).
Hey, listen, it’s great that you have a tummy that looks like you never eat food – that’s fantastic – but I have to tell you that there will come a day, probably after having two or three kids, that you’ll look at those old selfie photos in a whole different light. That tummy will never look the same – and if your self-worth extends only to the trimness of your stomach or the firmness of your backside, what’s left after those are gone?
Listen, I have nothing against selfies, but the way most kids take them these days are just obnoxiously vain. Instead, why not get some inspiration from this video below. .
Now these people know how to take an original selfie! But seriously, what point does the selfie serve other than blatant self-obsession and vanity?
2. Watching live video game streams.
One day, I returned home from work to find my younger teen daughter sitting on the couch wearing a headset, and playing a video game. It looked like she was chatting with some older guy whose image was displayed in the upper corner of the screen. It was actually a game that I recognized, and I know we had never bought for her, so I became somewhat suspicious.
“Um….who are you chatting with?” I asked her. She started laughing.
“It’s PewDiePie!” she answered, struggling to contain herself.
“Pewdy-who?” I asked. I looked at the screen and realized that she wasn’t actually talking to anyone. She was watching someone else playing a video game.
When I was a kid, the only time I found myself watching someone else playing a video game was when I was anxiously waiting for my brother to finish his turn on the Atari so that I could play.
Why on Earth would anyone sit there for hours watching someone else play a video game? It doesn’t make any sense.
It may not make sense, but teens are doing in en masse. Just looking at the list of Top 500 YouTube Games channels, the list of subscribers is in the millions across a large majority of those channels. Monthly views are in the tens to hundreds of millions.
Okay, so I get that it’s common for teens to want to do things and hide it from their parents. And I get that Snapchat – a service where you can capture and send an image to someone and then have that photo disappear in 1 to 10 seconds. And I’m sure most teens realize that the picture technically isn’t going to disappear if the recipient doesn’t want it to, because they can capture a screenshot of it if they like.
Here’s the thing. Personally if I want to send someone a message, I’ll pick up my phone and send them a text. If I want to send them a picture, I’ll text the picture. If I want to share that picture with just friends I know, I’ll send a Facebook message. Why would anyone ever need the image to disappear, unless they were up to no good?
Well, to be honest I was finally able to find a video that helped me to get a slightly better handle on why teens use Snapchat.
The bottom line is it’s basically about being stupid. It’s about goofing off and trying to make your friends laugh or whatever. It’s a selfie-taker’s dream come true (as you can see from the video). Why teenage friends care to see each other’s stupid selfies is completely beyond me. Maybe, if you’re a teen, you can explain it to me in the comments after this article?
The good news is that, while surely there are some teens doing plenty of sexting using the service, even that would get old after a while. It isn’t enough to make such a service as wildly popular as this one is. I think Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel was telling the truth when he told the Verge that, “it’s not a great way to send inappropriate content.”
4. The Slender Man Phenomenon
When my youngest daughter was very little, she had a habit of believing the claims of every commercial on television. I would often return home to her begging me to buy our family some cooking gadget, because it would let us cook supper in half the time. This naivete was innocent enough at the time, but a lingering naivete exists well into teenage years. The Internet can be a dangerous place for kids who are quick to believe unusual claims.
The truth of this really came to a head in June of 2014, when two 12-year old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin – Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier – attacked a female classmate during a sleepover. After luring the victim, Payton Leutner, into the woods, the two girls attacked her with a knife and stabbed her 19 times. The reason they gave for the attack? They had planned the attack for over five months in order to impress “Slender Man”.
Thankfully, the victim survived, but the legend of Slender Man lives on.
Slender Man was born as part of a fictional story on a forum called Creepypasta in 2009. It’s the story told of a tall, dark-suited and faceless boogeyman-like creature who kidnaps someone. Multiple Slender Man stories started to spread – sometimes written as first-person stories, creating the more convincing feeling that there could be some truth to the reality of the creature.
What is difficult to believe is that so many teenagers actually did believe in Slender Man. Then again, it’s hardly unique to this generation – consider the popularity of so many other urban legends passed down from teen to teen through the generations (Bloody Mary, the Vanishing Hitchhiker and so on).
Mikel J. Koven, a folklorist from the University of Wales told Live Science that much of what drives believe in these stories – however false they are – are social fears.
“By looking at what’s implied in a story, we get an insight into the fears of a group in society. [Urban legends] need to make cultural sense.”
Teens are overflowing with plenty of fears that are left wide open and exposed, ready to be exploited by the next urban legend they hear on or off the Internet.
5. Watching Really Annoying People on YouTube
Another time when I walked in from work and saw my daughter on her laptop, she was watching and listening to one of the loudest, weirdest individuals I’ve ever seen.
Yeah, yeah, I know. My teenage daughter informed me that his name is jacksepticeye, and that he’s actually quite popular on YouTube (and I’m sure makes lots of money doing it). The over 1.5 million views of the video above is proof enough of that. But why?
Why do teenagers enjoy sitting through hours upon hours of people over-acting as they talk about one inane subject or another. What is entertaining or enlightening about it? I don’t get it.
Speaking of inane and boring…
6. Watching Boring Unboxing Videos
Another really, really, really weird phenomenon popular among teens (and lately, my wife as well) is that of unboxing videos.
If you don’t know what it is, trust me – you don’t want to know. It’s literally as simple and utterly boring as it sounds. It’s a personality (like Graveyard Girl….sorry, grav3yardgirl), opening up boxes that they’ve received from fans.
Obviously, it’s probably great fun for the YouTube personality to get mountains of fan mail and packages from viewers, but why on Earth is it interesting to sit there and watch someone open boxes like they’re opening presents on Christmas morning. I mean seriously, isn’t half the fun on Christmas morning being the one to open the boxes? What fun is it watching someone else open them?? Makes no sense at all.
7. Taking Social Bullying so Seriously
That last odd teenage behavior online that I wanted to cover is also probably the most important: Taking online bullying too seriously.
Bullying – as horrible and as tragic as it can feel at the time that you’re going through it – has been a rite of passage for teenagers, long before the Internet was even a thing. Except now, the bullying doesn’t end once you get on the bus after school and go home, it can continue online, on places like Twitter and Facebook.
The reality, as I explained way back in 2012 right here at MakeUseOf, is that nothing lasts forever. Not even on the Internet. Websites go down all the time. Heck, everyone thought MySpace was going to be around forever, and now it’s hardly a shadow of what it once was.
And then there’s the matter of putting it in perspective.
In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of novels by Douglas Adams, there is a technology called the “Total Perspective Vortex”, which is considered one of the worst torture devices that anyone could ever be subjected to. What it does is shows you a quick glimpse of the entire cosmos – all of creation into infinity, and then you’re shown an infinitesimal little speck with the words, “You are here” next to it.
Honestly, I think anyone who has ever worried about something written about them on the Internet needs to be subjected to such a device, but with the enormity of the Internet rather than the cosmos.
Gaining a perspective of the Internet is a huge help toward relieving any stress you may feel about whether or not those comments, or that picture or video someone posted about you really matters at all, given the sheer (growing) size of the Internet.
To get some sense of this, just have a look at the website Internet Live Stats, which shows you how much activity takes place on the Internet at any given second.
At any given second, there are almost 10,000 Tweets, 2,500 Instagram photos, and 2,100 Tumblr posts. There are millions of blog posts, and billions of YouTube videos viewed. Inside of this ever-expanding sea that we call the Internet, there is a itty, bitty speck of sand – something someone posted about you. Given time and distractions (and there are plenty of other distractions online), everyone will completely forget whatever was said about you – and hardly any probably even paid much attention to it in the first place.
I May Never Understand Today’s Teen
I admit that when it comes to online behaviors of a modern teen, there’s a lot that I still don’t really understand. These are things that I don’t think I ever would have been very interested when I was a kid, but then again, it’s hard to say how today’s society would change the kind of kid that I was.
With so much to do online today, and so many ways that teens are able to communicate and interact with each other, there has never been a time in human history when a single technology has had such an impact on what it means to be a teenager – other than, maybe, music.
Are you a teen, and have some insight as to why one or more of these things are so popular? Are you a parent who sometimes worries about why any of these things are so popular? Share your own thoughts in the comments section below, and let’s talk about it!
Image Credits: Smiling pupils by wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock, Syda Productions via Shutterstock, Stefano Tinti / Shutterstock.com, Chris Harvey via Shutterstock, O Driscoll Imaging via Shutterstock, dalmingo via Shutterstock