The Top 10 Social Media Apps According to Students, and What Parents Need to Know

By Laura Tierney, The Social Institute
Teen on phone

New social media apps are popping up every month, and it feels nearly impossible for parents to keep up with which ones are trending versus which ones are “cringey”. 

As a social media educator to tens of thousands of students across the country, I can tell you that in today’s world, social media is how students are social. And why wouldn’t that be the caseyou can connect with your friends and family, find resources for learning, seek support, and share your thoughts all in one place? 

But for parents, staying on top of the latest social media trends is a bit like playing whack-a-mole. To help, we’ve rounded up the top ten social media apps that students are using, according to data pulled from The Social Institute 2023 Insight Report, a nationwide survey of nearly 23,000 students at U.S. public schools and independent schools conducted between August 1 through December 1, 2022, along with Pew Research. Here’s everything you need to know about the top ten apps, as ranked by students. 

#1 YouTube 

What is YouTube?

If you’re looking for the most used video-sharing social media app in the world, you’re in the right place. YouTube is a video-sharing platform that allows people to upload, watch and share videos on tons of different topics. 

How students use it:

In 2022, 95% of teens turned to YouTube to watch videos. Students use YouTube to subscribe to positive role models, use their creative skills to create content, pursue their passions and interests, and so much more. 

What educators and parents should know about YouTube:

YouTube has an endless amount of videos, from educational content to humorous videos, and students can watch videos on anything they’re interested in. While they do have access to tons of YouTube videos, the platform does have specific guidelines to protect people from harmful and explicit content and parents can set up a supervised account for their children and choose from varying levels of supervision. 

Similar to streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu, you can use YouTube to watch videos with your family. Host a YouTube night where everyone can show a video of something they’re interested in to learn even more about your family’s online lives. 

#2 Snapchat

What is Snapchat?

You know how magicians make coins and cards disappear? Imagine that but as a social media photo- and video-sharing app. Snapchat is a social media platform that lets users share messages, photos and videos with one another. But there’s a twist. Once the messages, photos or videos are seen by the recipient, they disappear.

How students use it:

Students use Snapchat to easily communicate and connect with their friends through direct messaging one another and posting on their Snapchat Stories. Stories are a Snapchat feature that allows them to share photos and videos with all of their friends for 24 hours before the content is automatically deleted. 

What educators and parents should know about Snapchat:

A popular Snapchat feature is what’s called a Streak. Snapchat Streaks show you how many days you have consistently sent a photo back and forth to another person. While Streaks create a sense of connection with their friends, students will sometimes do anything to keep their Streakeven if that means sending a snap during class or letting someone else log in to their Snapchat account to send the streak picture. 

It’s also important to know that “Snap Maps” displays users’ locations on a map in real-time, visible to their Snapchat friends. You can turn this off or use it in Ghost Mode, which allows you to still see the map but not be seen by others. Beyond the safety concern with SnapMaps is the fact that users can see if a group of friends is hanging out together in one locationand FOMO (fear of missing out) is real!

And rememberjust because Snaps automatically delete, a screenshot is forever. Encourage your child to think twice about what they post and send on Snapchat (and all apps). 

#3 Instagram 

What is Instagram? 

Instagram is one of students’ favorite social media apps for posting pictures and videos, while also following friends, family, influencers and celebrities’ accounts. 

How students use it: 

Students use Instagram positively by staying in touch with friends and family, voicing their opinions, sharing their accomplishments and more. Instagram is a social media app that gives students the freedom to choose who they want to follow and, better yet, who can or can not follow them. 

What educators and parents should know about Instagram:

Students can share their Instagram photos and videos with certain people, depending on the privacy setting they choose. For example, a public account allows anyone to view their content, while a private account gives them the power to pick and choose who has access to their page.   

Here at The Social Institute, we empower students to use their mic for good on Instagram by sharing positive posts and their hobbies and interests with their followers. Additionally, Instagram’s Parent’s Guide and Family Center has tons of resources that you can rely on to help ensure your child is using Instagram positively and safely! Bookmark these resources to stay up to date on all things Instagram safety. 

#4 TikTok

What is TikTok? 

TikTok is a video-sharing platform built around creating, sharing and watching short 15-second to 10-minute videos, and it’s quickly become one of students’ favorite social media apps. 

How students use it: 

Similar to YouTube and Instagram, students use TikTok to watch and create videos on their own accounts. They participate in video trends such as lip-syncing challenges or making videos with green screens, creating videos that showcase their talents and interacting with other people by liking and commenting on videos. 

What educators and parents should know about TikTok:

There have been many concerns about TikTok’s privacy features and how people’s data are being collected. TikTok is also similar to a black hole, where students often find themselves mindlessly scrolling for hours on end. Students I’ve spoken with love the creativity expressed on TikTok, and they acknowledge that they can find themselves hooked on their For You Pages for hours without being fully conscious of how much time has gone by. Show your child TikTok’s digital well-being features to help them balance the amount of time they spend scrolling through the app.  

#5 BeReal

What is BeReal? 

An app that works like Instagram, where you share photos with your friends, except there’s a catch. At random times during the day, you get a notification on your device that it’s time to “BeReal.” You have two minutes to take a selfie (front-facing photo) and a back-facing camera picture of wherever you are and whatever you’re doing! 

How students use it: 

To share their lives and snapshot moments with their friends without feeling the pressure to create a specific aesthetic. Since there are no filters, no influencers and no photo-editing abilities on BeReal, they can enjoy capturing their life “in the moment” without focusing on being perfect! 

What educators and parents should know about BeReal:

BeReal is inspiring students to be their most authentic selves and giving them a more casual, genuine place to share and connect with others. However, some students are focusing on when the next BeReal notification is going to hit their phone and are distracted from other important responsibilities. 

BeReal has a default feature that allows students to share their location along with their posts. Encourage your child to protect their privacy by turning off the location feature. 

#6 Roblox

What is Roblox? 

A creative gaming platform where millions of players can play online games? Sign me up. Roblox is a platform where students can create and play games with friends online and talk to their friends with Roblox’s chatbox. 

How students use it: 

Students use Roblox to join groups of other people who like the same games, follow people and use their imagination and gaming skills to develop their own virtual worlds.           

What educators and parents should know about Roblox:

Roblox is especially popular amongst younger students because it offers a fun, engaging place where they can play and create different games with friends! However, some games do have inappropriate content, such as explicit language, violence or horror images. 

Use Roblox’s parental controls to help ensure the safety of your child and manage what content they’re being exposed to, and encourage them to showcase their creative skills by creating their own games on the platform. 

#7 Spotify

What is Spotify? 

When you use Spotify, the music streaming platform, you have access to millions of songs, podcasts, and music artists at your fingertips. You can stream any song on demand, create playlists and even follow other people to see what they’re listening to.  

How students use it: 

Students use Spotify to stream their favorite songs, find new artists and even stay up to date on news with Spotify podcasts too. 

What educators and parents should know about Spotify:

Spotify offers different membership options, and not all of them are free. For students who want to avoid ads in the middle of their song choices and while they don’t have wifi, they can buy the premium subscription for $9.99 a month. Spotify Kids is aimed at children aged 12 and under and is available through a premium family subscription. Also worth notingSpotify has an explicit content filter available in settings, which can be utilized to block anything labeled “E” for explicit.

Encourage your children to listen to a variety of music and artists to expand their knowledge and cultural awareness and create playlists that can be shared for the family to enjoy!

#8 Twitch

What is Twitch? 

Twitch is a popular live-streaming platform where people can watch and broadcast video games, music videos, and other creative content.

How students use it: 

Students use Twitch to learn from and watch professional video gamers, interact with different streamers, chat with other Twitch users and even create their own content!

What educators and parents should know about Twitch:

Twitch can contain mature content and language at times, so it’s best to encourage students to navigate any instances where they come across that content by using their block, report or unfollow feature. 

Use Twitch’s parental controls to protect your child from any streaming or video content that may not be appropriate for them. Also, help kids navigate Twitch positively by encouraging them to think carefully about the videos they’re consumingand how those videos might affect the way they act or feel.

#9 Twitter

What is Twitter? 

Could you get your point across with only 280 characters max? If so, Twitter’s the place for you. Twitter is a social media platform where you can “tweet” your thoughts, engage in conversations with people, follow influencers and more. 

How students use it: 

Students use Twitter to follow people with similar interests, communicate with others and stay up-to-date on news and events!

What educators and parents should know about Twitter:

Twitter can sometimes contain mature language and explicit content on students’ home feeds. Talk to your child about Twitter’s privacy settings so they can stay safe and avoid cyberbullying on the platform. Also, be aware that Twitter can sometimes contain mature language and explicit content on the home page. Monitor your children’s Twitter activity and encourage them to use the platform in a positive and responsible way, like spreading awareness for a cause they care about, promoting an upcoming event or giving a shoutout to someone who deserves some recognition.

#10 Gas 

What is Gas? 

Wondering who likes you? Don’t worry, you can check on Gas! This new trending app is all about “gassing someone up,” which refers to complimenting or hyping up a friendwhich is one of the reasons why this app has become so popular. On the app, you see positive, pre-generated poll questions and then vote on classmates’ names. 

How students use it: 

Students are using Gas to hype others up and strengthen their self-esteem.  

What educators and parents should know about Gas:

On Gas, voting is anonymous, and students cannot send private messages or even comment publicly on who has been chosen. However, if you pay for the upgraded version (“God Mode”), it lets you see who said what about you. 

Gas’s minimum age requirement is 13 years old, but there is no ID verification to make sure people who sign up are the age they say they are. If your child is under 13, there are tons of other apps that are more user-friendly for them. Also, be aware that the app can see a student’s location and only allows them to answer questions about other classmates in their school. With this in mind, it is possible that some students may vote on or tease other students since the app is anonymous. 

The Bottom Line

Social media is here to stay, and whether or not recent bills to regulate teen social media usage pass, parents have the difficult and never-ending job of trying to stay ahead of the curve. By understanding the why and how of these social media appsand huddling with your kids about how they’re using apps, what they love about them, have the chance to see your students’ social world through their lens. 

We recommend parents have open discussions about best practices for using social media. Sit down with your teens and fill out The Social Institute’s Family Social Standards Agreement together to help each other live up to high standards while navigating social media and tech. 

As parents and educators, these insights allow us to better guide, educate and connect with our students. The better you understand your students, the better you can empower them to navigate their worldsboth online and offlinein positive and high-character ways. 

About Laura Tierney 

Laura Tierney is the Founder and CEO of The Social Institute, the leader in understanding student experiences and creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences—online and offline—in positive, high-character ways. Follow Laura and her team’s work at @thesocialinst.

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