It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

Media and Content, Internet and Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

Article Snapshot


danah boyd


Yale University Press, 2014


Teens relate to technology differently than previous generations. Most teens use social networks mainly to maintain contact with friends. Adults often misunderstand teen behavior online. Teens vary widely in their understanding of technology.

Policy Relevance

Technology makes some problems more visible. Adults should leverage this visibility to help teens navigate the networked world.

Main Points

  • “Technological determinism,” the idea that technology has intrinsic powers that affect everyone the same way, drives utopian and dystopian visions of the effect of technology on society.
  • Social media include social networking sites, video sharing sites, and blogging and micro-blogging platforms; these media vary in four ways:
    • Persistence, the durability of content;
    • Visibility of content to potential audience;
    • Spreadability, the ease of sharing content with others;
    • Searchability, the ease of finding the content.
  • Teens value privacy from parents, teachers, and others in positions of authority over them.
  • Today’s teens have less freedom than previous generations, and would prefer to meet in person, than to meet online; most teens “addicted” to technology are trying to stay in touch with friends.
  • Parents are concerned that teens will meet sexual predators online, but sexual abuse of children is most likely to occur with people the child knows and trusts.
  • Bullying occurs when a person with greater power subjects another to repeated psychological, physical, or social aggression; some think that social media makes bullying worse, but teen behavior has not fundamentally changed.
  • Some hoped that the Internet would help end inequality, but social media can reinforce social divisions by enabling people to identify and harass others.
  • Today’s teens are described as “digital natives,” but this term is misleading because teens vary widely in their understanding and experience of technology.


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