From Instagram to X and TikTok, get the lowdown on the most popular apps teens use (and what you need to watch out for!)
We get it, kids: social media is here to stay. No matter how many times we claim “In our day, we had to speak to each other in person to make arrangements,” we know that apps for teens aren’t going away anytime soon. Or ever. And that’s why we’re trying to get on board with apps. So with the odd helpful grunt from our own awkward teenagers, we’ve come up with a guide for parents on the apps teens use in Singapore right now, and what we need to know about them.
What you need to know first
Before we jump into the weird and wacky world of social media apps teens use, there are a few things to note: many of these apps were made for adults by adults, so neither the apps nor the content creators will ever be held responsible for the content teens create or view. (In other words, if the teenagers get up to no good and start sending inappropriate selfies, it’s not Facebook’s fault.)
To say there’s any one app that teens use predominantly, and therefore making it easy for parents to keep an eye on (code talk for spy on), is not the case. Teenagers are a fickle lot, and in the world of social media, they tend to flock to whatever app their friends, or the popular influencers, are using. It’s an app-eat-app world out there and the watchful eyes of parents is just another factor… Good luck, mums and dads!
Hot tip: If you have questions about an app, what it does, and what the age rating is (or should be), our go-to platform is Common Sense Media. Here, you’ll find reviews from both parents and kids on everything from apps and games, to movies, books and tv. Bookmark it as a favourite, and thank us later!
The apps teens are using now
We’re no stranger to Instagram – the image-based app allows users to upload photos or videos and comment on or like other people’s content. Its Stories function allows users to upload videos for 24 hours before they disappear and get saved in the user’s Stories archive. It also allows people to live stream to their followers and send direct messages with the ‘Live’ function. While we still strongly believe it’s no place for teens (as they can be exposed to unwanted messages from strangers, is a hot bed for scams and suspicious bot accounts), Instagram does have safety features that help to make the app more teen-friendly. For example, direct messages (aka DMs) from non-followers will appear under ‘Message requests’ so users can approve or decline messages from people they don’t know. We also appreciate the new tool which shows photos in DMs with a blurred filter in case you get sent an inappropriate or graphic picture. Plus, you can now set time limits on the app, so if your teens do have Instagram, they don’t end up scroll mindlessly for hours and ignore their homework.
This popular short-form video platform is one of the biggest apps on the market, thanks to the overwhelming number of dance routines that popped up on the app as it rose to popularity in 2020. These days, you’ll find video content of all kinds on TikTok, including activity ideas, destination guides (ahem, follow the Honeycombers TikTok so you can find our videos there too *wink wink*) and sometimes confusing, disturbing trends – so we say proceed with caution and try to hold off on allowing your teens on this for as long as possible.
3. Facebook Messenger
Still going strong, Facebook has quite the monopoly when it comes to social media and social networking apps teens use. “I’ll add you on Facebook” has replaced asking for someone’s phone number, and suffice to say most people (parents included) on the planet (wherever it isn’t banned at least) have a Facebook account. It’s easy to use (even for parents) and Facebook’s in-built messaging system is a more public platform to stay in touch with people you’ve met in real life. Although its voice and video call functions could stand to be a bit more stable, it’s a decent app with a very large bank of stickers.
The addition of Facebook Messenger Kids means younger tweens can now stay connected to family and friends under the guidance of their parents. The parent dashboard allows you to customise your child’s experience and help to protect their privacy and safety. Parents must approve every contact, and you can also connect with the parents of your child’s friends so you can all keep an eye on the connections. It is still a social media app though, so a lot of the same dangers still apply.
Currently the world’s most popular microblogging tool for sending posts of no more than 280 characters long – with the option of adding photos, videos and links – X (formerly Twitter) is used for everything from sharing personal status updates to carrying out social and scientific discussions and even for social media reporting. Celebrities and politicians can mingle among the masses and we get their hot take on what shampoo to use or get to go all judgy pants on them based on how much sugar they put in their coffee. There’s also a private messaging function. Fun fact: it’s the number one most used social media app in Japan.
You have to be a gamer to use this. Just kidding, it’s the new free software that has quickly overtaken many other VoIPs (Voice over Internet Protocol, ie making calls via the Internet) like Teamspeak, Ventrillo and Skype. It comes as an app, a downloadable program and is even browser-supported. What’s most impressive is its ability to host several hundred people in a group chat (and group call!) at once. It’s one of the most popular online chat services used by gamers.
As one of the first messaging apps to replace texting (and, later, calling) on mobile, WhatsApp is still right up there and has over one billion users! Perfect for group chatting and file sharing, this app has been used worldwide since 2009 both professionally and personally.
Pitched as the fastest messaging app on the market, this cloud-based app became popular when other apps such as Kakao Talk and WhatsApp were banned in some countries. It’s popular and its definable feature is its programmable bots that do all kinds of cool things including quizzes and, recently, payment functionality. Best of all, it’s more private and secure than WhatsApp.
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When the good ol’ platforms LiveJournal and MySpace died out, Tumblr took the stage. As a fully customisable blogging site, you can subscribe to a literal dashboard of content the same way you would for Twitter or Youtube by following other users. You can also ‘like’ or ‘reblog’ (share) other people’s content so that it becomes available to view on your own blog. It also implemented a real-time messaging system, in addition to its other messaging functions. We’ll admit we aren’t sure how popular this one still is, however Taylor Swift still tends to post here, so we think it’s still in regular use – even if only by Swifties!
We feel this is one of the scariest apps on the market. In the US, this used to be one of the biggest messaging apps teen use (before TikTok took over). Teenagers can share stuff they don’t want to necessarily share forevermore, update stories and send photos in the knowledge that all the info will be deleted within 24 hours. It also informs you if some sneak screenshots of something you post. Other features include ready information on celebrity events and media functions, so you can stay on top of the social buzz happening right now. And of course there are those Snapchat filters… But now we get them on Instagram, too!
Beware though – there is a ‘find my friends’ functionality on Snapchat that means your teenagers could end up hosting an unwanted party if a few of their friends gather in the same place and their followers all catch on. This actually happened to people we know, so make sure you think twice before letting your kiddo loose on this one!
Meta’s answer to X, this is the latest short-form platform that is primarily for text and short shout-outs. Linked to an Instagram account, Threads is set to challenge X for the position of most popular micro-blogging platform. It was huge when it first launched in July, but now we’re not sure it’s as popular.
This app irks us a little, as it has deliberately set itself up to be for teens only – no adults allowed. This is like a major beacon to anyone with sinister intentions. As the app will be filled with teenagers who are expecting to converse with other teenagers, it immediately raises our safety concerns. The purpose of the Saturn is marketed as ‘a way to help high school students organise their busy lives. It does this by syncing up their school and activity schedules and sharing with peers from their specific school’. Although this concept makes sense, we have huge concerns for the app’s safety and our teens privacy.
Firstly, the lack of parental controls (and considering parents are not intended to be using this app at all). This means it is harder to keep tabs on the app usage. Next, the ability for teens to link to their other social media accounts means that there is a lot of private information being shared. It is also surprisingly easy to sign up for an account. Once you have ‘friended’ another user, you can see their schedule and location, which is another big red flag for us!
12. Tencent QQ and WeChat
We know China isn’t very Google-friendly, neither is it on speaking terms with Facebook. However, they have messaging apps there and among them is Tencent QQ and WeChat. QQ is more popular among the Chinese-speaking community since the international version is pretty user-unfriendly. QQ itself is very handy. Not only can you send files from your phone to your computer, but you can also call, live stream from your phone, and even send money to your friends. This is the all-in-one, folks. Of course, it is in Chinese.
Stay vigilant and safe online, teens!