Younger teens’ enthusiasm for Facebook declines: Could the site’s “graying problem” be a parent problem?

By KRISTEN GREEN ’14

Features Editor

I recently had a conversation with a friend about her mother’s presence on Facebook. She complained that her mother virtually “liked” every event she reported to attend, every status update she posted and, worst of all, every new friend connection that came up on her newsfeed. My friend admitted that before ultimately unfriending her mom on Facebook, she considered leaving the site herself.

At first a little taken aback at the idea of “leaving” Facebook—it’s an essential procrastination tool, after all—I realized that my friend’s experience may not be all that unique. In fact, her displeasure with Facebook may be part of a trend that indicates that youthful use of the site is on the decline.

In a recent call with investors, executives confirmed that, despite having overall success recently, Facebook has seen a decline in the number of teens who are daily active users of the site. This confirmation echoed what others have said recently about teens and Facebook. Just before the content of the investors’ call was made public, Piper Jaffrey, a leading investment bank and asset-management firm, released a statement on their semi-annual  “Taking Stock with Teens” project. The firm found that, in terms of purchasing decisions, Facebook seems to be becoming less important to teens. While Internet usage still plays a significant role in teen purchase decisions, only 23 percent of teens claimed Facebook itself was the most important factor, a 19 percent decrease from last year’s response.

Pew’s May 2013 report offered possible explanations for declining enthusiasm for Facebook among younger teens, among them increasing adult usage of the site. Teen focus groups admitted that older Facebook users were a factor driving them into the arms of Twitter and Instagram, and my friend’s attitude seems right in line with these younger users, making me wonder if Facebook’s “graying problem” might be, at least partially, a “parent problem.”

I’m generally indifferent toward my own parents’ online presences. I’ve learned to tolerate my mother’s insistence on liking ex-boyfriends’ status updates and my dad’s sometimes awkward photo comments, but I can see why younger teens’ interest in the site might be waning.

There are blogs dedicated to documenting parental Facebook “fails”; a dad’s  attempt to Google “how to cook a turkey” in his status update bar is a personal favorite. But perhaps more important than the embarrassment potential is the idea that  an increase in older Facebook users means that young users aren’t getting the same amount of privacy online. Understandably, many parents join Facebook to keep up with and monitor their kids’ virtual lives, a necessary and responsible precaution. Yet maybe this has caused  younger social media users to forgo frequent visits to  Facebook in favor of other platforms.

Messaging applications like Whatsapp—which has 350 million monthly active users—are gaining popularity among younger users, as are social media platforms like Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. These applications, especially those used for messaging, do offer a higher degree of privacy to users, but as teens begin using them at higher rates, older generations may follow suit, just as they did with Facebook.

Will teens continue to lead the way in defining the next popular thing in social media? Do these trends point to the decline of Facebook, or a virtual landscape segregated by age? Teen enthusiasm for Facebook may have lessened, but the widespread view of the site as an essential part of the social experience, even among teens, makes these difficult questions to answer.

Kristen Green is a senior studying political science and Spanish. Follow her on Twitter @greengreen_kris.

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