Teenage Participatory Culture

We live in a participatory culture that is constantly demanding our attention and interaction. Teenagers are highly engaged in this culture and could be setting the expectations of social media engagement. A 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project referenced in Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, 87% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were online. (Rheingold, 2014)  A more recent study by Pew Research Center, conducted in 2018 of teens ages 13-17, found that 95% of teens own or have access to a smart phone and that 45% say they are online on a near-constant basis.  Furthermore, those teens recently polled have gravitated to other social media platforms rather than Facebook.  Pew Research Center: Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018


correct pic


Facebook is no longer the predominant social media platform for teenagers, not even close.  While adults seem to be using Facebook still more frequently, I’ve noticed that changing.  Personally, I have started using YouTube and Instagram more than Facebook. My social media platform engagement change began because of my daughter.  However, I quickly understood the gravitation towards Instagram and YouTube.


Teenagers and now adults are becoming social media producers in many different ways.  We are constantly engaged in this participatory culture. In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold defines participatory culture as, “one in which a significant portion of the population, not just a small professional guild, can participate in the production of cultural materials ranging from encyclopedia entries to videos watched by millions.  And it is a culture populated by people who believe they have some degree of power.” (Rheingold, 2014)  One big outcome of this participatory culture is that web participants then become curators.


By the creation of media, consuming it, sharing it, and critiquing it, every web participant is actively engaging in this participatory culture.  There are many benefits or rewards to being involved in social media. Pew Research Center also questioned how teens are currently using social media but also questioned about the negative impacts.


participatory culture risks


From the data, it is obvious that there are some strong positive effects, but also some very serious negative effects.  To what degree is this participatory culture then more harmful than helpful? According to Howard Rheingold, those in these participatory cultures believe they have some degree of power.  (Rheingold, 2014)  However, from the Pew Research Center data, bullying and/or rumor spreading is the main concern of 27% of the teens who reported mostly negative experience with social media engagement.  This doesn’t indicate that the receiver of bullying feels that they have any power. To that point, in Howard Rheingold’s definition of participatory culture, I would change the part that states these people feel that they have power (in general) to interaction in our participatory culture gives us the illusion of power.  That’s not to say that individuals don’t actually have power in certain interactions, at certain moments.  However, to the degree that our culture changes, it opens up new ways to cause harm. Even the most influential celebrities get harassed and bullied on social media.  They have power in one aspect but then zero in the next.


Participatory cultural effects in our digital age create new challenges and I have a lot of concern for teenagers being able to cope with this constant interaction.  Considering 95% own or have access to a smart phone and 45% of them are online on a near-constant basis, according to the Pew Research data. The new technologies necessitate an adult understanding in order to help teenagers navigate in our participatory culture.  And to help us adults, too.



Posted on October 7, 2018, in mobile, Social Media and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Thanks for your post, JJ. I too find myself gravitating more towards YouTube and Instagram and away from Facebook, partly because too many people see me on Facebook, and I am more selective on Instagram. I like that control.

    My 40-something friends and I often discuss our relief that we didn’t live our middle school and high school years in the age of social media, as many of them have children going through it now. instead of “just being bullied at school,” kids can now be bullied 24/7 and through multiple venues. Pictures get grabbed, taken out of context, and shared. And unfortunately, we’ve seen cases of some parents joining in on the bullying by creating fake accounts and essentially catfishing kids: https://www.foxnews.com/story/myspace-mom-linked-to-missouri-teens-suicide-being-cyber-bullied-herself

    I also worry what the long-term effects of this filtered life lived through a lens does to kids’ feelings of security, confidence, and self-awareness. I know I used to compare myself to the PhotoShopped models on the cover of Cosmo as a teen. Now kids have many more venues of comparison. On one hand, it’s good that they’re aware that most of those images are altered, but at the same time, they may never feel quite as confident without the use of those filters. I think this new media will also provide plenty of material for psychologists and counselors to study for decades to come, too.


    • Amery,

      It makes you appreciate your childhood more, doesn’t it?
      My Nintendo was all the technology I needed! And the VCR!



  2. Hi JJ,

    Great in-depth post this week! I really enjoyed reading this and the level of engagement you provide.

    I was not surprised when you began citing statistics on social media use and this whole concept of a participatory culture to see that Facebook is no longer the predominant media source attracting teenagers. I work in the field of marketing and communications and the gravitational shift of platforms is always an exciting factor to report on. What I mean by this is that certain platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are more associated and linked with connecting business and news pertinent to the industry, however, I find it particularly interesting that businesses or universities are heavily rely on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook for their main source of information. This came by no surprise to me because students are all over these platforms sharing, posting and commenting and tagging their friends in relatable posts, memes, or items featured on social media. As more and more universities and businesses who focus on attracting younger individuals into their workforce begin to shift to the latter platforms I began to wonder what the next social media craze will be for future generations…

    Do you find it interesting that much of social media is now, especially Snapchat and Instagram, are focused on providing stories, glimpses or even less than 10 seconds of content for their users to interact with? In Net Smart, Rheingold mentions the attention span of individuals and how some of us are better than others at multitasking or sifting through information more rapidly than others.

    Your reference about participating in this culture is spot on that no matter the type of engagement provided we, in some way shape or form, are contributing to it… Now, how and and types of contribution can greatly differ from person to person, generation to generation and platform to platform, but any type of interaction counts towards engagement.

    I’d be curious to see what type of research or studies have been conducted which show a user’s interaction in relation to their mood at the time of the interaction. I’ve notice on our company’s social media pages reading comments from users with an apology for saying something “not nice” and that at the time they posted they were in a “bad mood.” For me, I tend to side with the theory of if you can’t say anything nice than don’t say it all, but I guess this yet another variable in which users feel they “must” contribute to the participatory culture. I’d be curious to hear your perspective on this as well.

    Thanks for the insightful post. The content you included raised many questions for me with interactions and interpersonal communication.

    Thank you,


    • Kim,

      I almost wrote my blog about Rheingold’s discussion around multitasking! I was drawn to that too because, I attempt to meditate at times and then find myself laughing because, although I’m sitting on the floor trying to clear my mind, I’m making lists, brainstorming school assignments, and thinking about work related stuff…Multitasker, for sure! Mindfulness guru, absolutely not!

      I think that is one of the reasons I value Instagram more. I can scroll quickly, see anything I might care about and stop to dive into something more if it catches my eye more.

      Okay, I’ve had a very hard time reading comments under articles and posts online and I SO want to respond – have my voice in the participatory culture… But, I agree with you that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it all. It’s hard and I am tempted to defend my beliefs but here’s the reality, all I’ll be doing is encouraging unhealthy conflict and there is enough of that! We are accountable for our words, even if we’re mad. I think it is better to not have to apologize for lashing out.



  3. JJ,

    Great post and spot on as far as I can tell from having actual teenagers and watching them interact with friends and use social media. My oldest son is a Snap Chat addict. He worries about his snap streaks and loves that he can post something to a friend and potentially have it disappear within seconds. Personally, I like for my conversations with friends to stay put! Sheesh. My youngest son is a slave to his text messages, Skype, and Discord (which he describes as a chat room in which the creator can choose the participants) to communicate with his online friends. Both of them have a facebook account where they would never be caught posting.

    Also, just as the statistics show, I am more of a Facebook user at 39. Most of my friends are on there and messenger is easier to use than text messages and does not require me to give out my personal cell number to do so. It is also the way I communicate in my business most often.

    Great stats to back up the trend I was seeing in my own family/personal social media usage.


    • Rebecca,

      I am 38 and have been more of a Facebook user too. I’m just now moving more to Instagram.
      Messenger really is competing with texting! I’ve seen the same thing with Instagram and SnapChat with my daughter. Forget texting, just message through those!



  4. Thanks for offering the details about the negative effects because I’ve recently immersed myself in fan studies and I see examples of “callout culture” all the time, predominantly on Tumblr because users can hide behind pseudonyms or go completely anonymous. While it doesn’t always veer into cyberbullying, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and overreaction.

    For example, just yesterday former 538 writer Harry Enten commented on Taylor Swift’s endorsement of Democratic candidates as “cute” and was met with backlash from her fans, leading to these tweets:


    • I know exactly what you mean! I struggle to control myself while reading comments because of the cruelty. And society is so volatile right now! I’ve taken even further steps back from social media, even in the past few days because it is making me sad and depressed. I’m a 38 year old adult and I struggle. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be a teenager growing up in this! It makes me value my childhood more.


  5. Hi JJ,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post for this week

    Your provided charts are especially telling and alarming. I am not surprised to see that Snapchat is the most commonly used social media platform among teenagers. My significant other has a teenage daughter who “snapchats” throughout the day while implementing creative filters in the forms of tropical backgrounds, animal facial features, etc. Though I don’t know much about Snapchat (I used the app for a day or two before throwing in the towel), I presume its teenage-appeal has much to do with the temporary aspect of its functionality. If I’m not mistaken, pictures and videos disappear after a handful of seconds, allowing users to freely post with minimal fear of future ramifications. Does this sound accurate? You touched on Snapchat’s functionality in your post, though I am seeking clarification.

    Also, I am not surprised that ‘cyber bullying’ is the primary rationale among teenagers that are opposed to social media. As a grown adult who survived his teenage years prior to the existence of social media, my heart truly breaks for teenagers who have been bullied though social media (or at all, really). As we’re all aware, several of these instances have resulted in suicide among bullied teenagers. It goes without saying that this is devastating and tragic on so many levels.

    Thank you for your insight.


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