From the perspective of most people over the age of 21, the way teenagers use technology seems like some unsolvable puzzle from the future. Predictions about which products they'll flock to inevitably turn out to be wrong, and that certainly seems to be true in the case of Twitter.
A few years ago, people were saying that massive amounts of teens would never use Twitter in the same way they had adopted Facebook and MySpace (it's impossible to write "MySpace" without adding a "ha"). But, as anyone who has had the misfortune of searching for "Bieber" — or really any word, with the possible exception of "menopause" — on Twitter knows, there are droves of teens on there right this second who are more than willing to livetweet their quasi-literate thoughts on which Jonas Brother is the hottest. So, despite the fact that Twitter once seemed to be a safe harbor for grown-ups who wanted to network and relentlessly self-promote in peace — it appears teenagers have invaded full-force and are now bending Twitter to serve their own particular need to communicate using the digital equivalent of monosyllabic grunts and high-pitched giggle-words.
This has not been an overnight takeover. They've been making a slow drift. According to a Pew survey from last July, 16 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 used Twitter. Two years before that, only eight percent did. Part of the reason they've converted to Twitter is because they're like so totally over Facebook. Why? For the same reason we all are: we're friends with our mom.
Britteny Praznik, a 17-year-old, recently tweeted, "I love twitter, it's the only thing I have to myself ... cause my parents don't have one." She still uses Facebook too, but since last summer she and a lot of the kids from her school have preferred Twitter. She says, "It just sort of caught on." Isn't that always the way.
Migrating over to Twitter to get some privacy seems hilarious, since it's such a public forum, but it does kind of make sense. It's all in how the kids these days are choosing to use the site, says the AP:
Teens tout the ease of use and the ability to send the equivalent of a text message to a circle of friends, often a smaller one than they have on crowded Facebook accounts. They can have multiple accounts and don't have to use their real names. They also can follow their favorite celebrities and, for those interested in doing so, use Twitter as a soapbox.
Using things like private accounts, following only a select group of people (instead of being friends with anyone you've ever met), and assuming fake identities all play into the way teens like to communicate anyway. So it makes total sense they'd find the service useful.
Though Ananda Mitra, a professor of communication at Wake Forest University, worries that teens don't completely understand the limits of the privacy online interactions promise. Between posting personal thoughts or information about yourself and being retweeted, it's pretty easy to be comprised quickly. But that's true of almost all the ways teens communicate these days.
Parents aren't necessarily freaking out about their kids being unsupervised on Twitter either. Britteny's mom Pam Praznik doesn't follow her daughter, per her request, but is fine with her tweeting back and forth with friends. She says, "She could text her friends anyway, without me knowing." True. If history has shown us anything, it's that teenagers will find a way to communicate with each other whether adults want them to or not.
So whether it's a love note scrawled on ancient papyrus or 140 characters worth of teen angst, there's no way to stop it and no reason to freak. Alice Marwick, a researcher at Microsoft Research who studies young people's online habits, says that, all things considered, tweeting is a pretty low risk activity: "They just want someplace they can express themselves and talk with their friends without everyone watching."
That's all they want until they get older, at least. Fast forward twenty or so years and these teens will be deep in the throes of trying to achieving some sort of digital immortality by racking up retweets and hoping people favorite their every thought. So for now, let them enjoy these Twitter hangouts in all their innocence. After all, nobody ever got pregnant from tweeting (at least not yet!) which is more than you can say about letting teenagers hang out together face-to-face.