Why teens will leave Facebook in the next two years

Why teens will leave Facebook in the next two years I actually drafted this post several months ago, but am finally publishing it now in light of some other blog posts that are coming out. Among others, Anastasia Goodstein writes about Facebook and youth social networking fatigue, Libby Issendorf says that gen Y lost that loving feeling for Facebook, and Adam McLanes writes about how MTV lost their “cool factor” with this generation.

The cycle of youth culture

It’s really not surprising to me that this is happening. It’s the cycle of youth culture. Teens gravitate to something, usually under criticism from adults, until it becomes common and mainstream. As the adults eventually start adopting it themselves, teens gradually move on to something else.

Remember that, in his day, Elvis Presley was greatly criticized for his gyrating hips and the moral values his followers were adopting, but eventually his music became common among adults, parents, and teens alike. So, teens moved on to other flavors of rock and roll. As those flavors became mainstream with adults, teens moved once again to alternative rock. And so on…

Mark Oestreicher, in his book, Youth Ministry 3.0, summarizes it well:

Youth culture has become the dominate culture…. Middle-aged and younger parents listen to the same music their teenagers listen to (or, at least, used to listen to)…. Clothing brands cross age barriers…. Adults are all over Facebook and MySpace. …youth culture cannot stand by while it becomes completely commoditized and commonplace. That rubs against the essential fabric of adolescence…. Teenagers’ constant need to differentiate from the adult world… drives them to new, “other” ways of connecting, coping, and creating. Every time some aspect of youth culture becomes commoditized and mainstream, accepted by adults and culture at large, teenagers tweak it in a new way for themselves or create a whole new category. Case in point: All Web-watchers and adolescent speculators were still convinced that teenagers were going to continue using email and online chat rooms to connect with each other virtually, but teenagers slid out from under that and embraced instant messaging. Then we adults… were shocked… that teens would slide out from under our assumptions about their IM use and move to texting as the most common form of social networking. (Pages 65, 66, 68.)

It’s impossible to predict what teens will move toward next, but I will take the liberty of going on record to say that the general population of teens will move away from Facebook in the next two years.

This is becoming more and more evident as young adults like Julian Smith are annoyed that grandparents are joining Facebook. In his popular video, 25 Things I Hate About Facebook, Julian says there should be an age limit to Facebook (1:14 in the video).

Some teens I know still love Facebook and use it daily, but not everyone. Actually, what prompted me to write this blog post a couple months ago was a conversation I had with a teen who said he closed his Facebook account because there’s too many adults there and it’s too bloated with random features he doesn’t care about.

So what’s next?

I have no idea what they’ll gravitate toward as teens stop checking Facebook multiple times a day and start checking it only once a day, eventually checking it a couple times a week and then only once in a while, but I think it will have a couple elements:

1. It will not be tethered to a computer. Although Facebook has a mobile version and features, it’s still largely bound to a computer. As teens become more and more mobile and as smart phone data plans become more common, their networking will move to a mobile device that connects to a computer rather than the other way around.

2. It will still enhance and lead to face-to-face socializing. When the telephone was gaining traction, the criticism was that people would no longer meet face-to-face to talk and the dangers of miscommunication from not seeing body language would create a lot of problems. Today we all know people still continue to meet face-to-face anyway. The telephone just extended our communication. Oddly enough, however, that’s the same argument that was made when I was younger and email and IM was gaining traction, except that those communication methods didn’t even have talking involved! But yet, here we are today still meeting in person, despite all the text messaging and social networking sites. Remember, God has created mankind with an innate need for relationships, primarily with Himself, but also with each other. That face-to-face component will never go away, just the expressions of it change as technology and youth culture continues to develop.

One possibility of something teens might gravitate toward is something like Loopt, a social service that utilizes the GPS capabilities of newer phones to show you where your friends are in proximity to you, what they’re doing, and quickly contact them so you can meet together face-to-face. (This Apple commercial explains it a bit more.) Whether or not it will reach the widespread acceptance like Facebook is yet to be seen (I kinda think it won’t).

Whatever teens move toward, though, it will initially come under criticism from adults just like MySpace and Facebook did. Soon enough adults will accept it and cause the teens to once again move elsewhere, but thus is the cycle of youth culture and all the subsequent challenges of youth ministry.

What do you think?

Do you think it will take teens longer than two years to move to something else? Shorter? Will Facebook be able to keep up with the morphing trends in culture and adolescence? Have an idea of what they’ll move toward after Facebook? Would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Posted on April 8, 2009

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  • Christine Kalmbach

    I think you're right on track! My daughter is 21 and says many of her college friends have said they will be closing their FB when they graduate! Some because they think FB is juvenile, others because parents, or older adults etc. are joining in mass…Loopt may take off as more people get the hi-tech phones. Gotta keep up and figure out ways to communicate with our youth!

    • I agree with this article, nicely written.
      Most of my friends are leaving Facebook these days, they enjoy using iOrbix allot more.

      It's much more Fun than Facebook and Customizable.
      It simply appeals allot to the younger generations.

  • I have to agree, I think youth will be embracing something else. You said that it will probably be mobile, but I don't think that's a youth thing per say. The number of people connecting to the internet through the mobile device doubled and computer sales going down.
    If it does happen, maybe that's a great thing. It seems like the youth open the door for the next thing in communication innovation.
    I will say that I went to facebook from myspace because myspace had too much extra junk on it. Now facebook is just about as bad. But I am also an older person on facebook.

  • Exactly, we have been communicating this very thing to our adults/parents. It is just a thought now…but there will be something the gravitate to. I actually enjoy it…it is a challenge, but that is what we do as youth pastors…stay connected…at least some do and I think it is all part of the way we meet them where they are. I wish I had an idea to run with…wouldn't mind selling idea later for some change. :)

  • Ryan

    I disagree… i feel facebook has gone through many changes and has continued to grow throughout the changes. It used to be just college and there are plenty of purists including me that feel it should only be for college students. However, i still use it as well as a lot of those "purists." they have joined groups wanting to kick the high school students out and moving it public was a huge thing however, a few have probably left but really… has facebook done anything but grow. I do foresee some issues if they continue to have problems with applications and move to do the direction of myspace. I say Facebook changes in 2 years but unlike ska, disco, and Reebok pumps the online social networking scene is here to stay.

    • We'll see if Facebook keeps up. At their current pace of "innovation" it seems like they're kinda moving in the wrong direction to me. They're adding more layers of complication than they are going for the simplistic approach that got it started. The more complicated and nagging the system becomes, the less people want to use it, myself included. However, I could be very forgiving if Facebook decided to suddenly change directions and return to its roots.

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  • Yeah, I block most of the apps, invitations, and junk I get on Facebook. That's helped cut down on a lot of it, but there's always something every time I login.

  • Great thoughts, Tim
    For the most part, I would say that I agree. As adults have discovered and "taken over" FB, it has taken away the uniqueness for many teens. At the same time, my list of teen contacts continues to grow and they continue to be really active with FB. My thought is that teens will keep FB but will begin to do much more networking on something else.
    For many teens and collegiates, the "safer" and "cleaner" environment of FB will continue to be useful as a draw for teens, especially Christian teens.

  • Rick brings up some good thoughts: that FB will continue to be a part of teens socialization along with other things. Do you think Twitter has much longevity? Is it built to be more expansive? I agree that a lot of the mobile networking tools will be more important to teens–but only if they're economically accessible to them. So maybe the best answers to some of these questions can be found in looking at new technologies on the horizon.

    • I agree that Facebook won't completely disappear for a long long time. I just think it's going to become less and less the place that teens gravitate toward for their virtual social networking. It's still growing because of all the adults who are joining it now that all the fear and criticism is wearing off.

      So far Twitter is generally popular among the young professionals demographic, the 20s-30s. Obviously there are teens and 60s who use it, too, but teens don't seem to be latching on to it yet, based on what I've seen and read.

  • Inetta Smith

    Really appreciate all the comments…I enjoy FB as it allows me to keep up with old friends in Florida. It's also nice to see what teens and college students are posting. I just get too overwhelmed with the games and the surveys, etc. I don't have the time. Thanks for your blog!

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  • John

    I agree that simplicity is the answer to most of the problems facing social networks. People left MySpace for a simpler, cleaner Facebook. But FB is losing the very thing that once made it attractive – simplicity. Now Twitter is growing like crazy, though I’m worried they will soon become a victim to feature creep. Let’s hope not.

    I think teens will embrace a Twitter-like service. When they see the value in archiving their messages (which are of course SMS currently), they will jump in. I remember as a teen wanting to save multiple messages but always ran our of space on my phone. Of course, this is less of a problem these days, but I believe there is still value for teens to have a web-based archive of everything they say.

    To get back on topic – I can definitely see FB becoming the supplement for a more mobile service. Great post, Tim.

  • Yeah.. however recently twitter is beginning to grow in our youth group. Not by leaps and bounds but gaining followers.

    • Some of your kids are following me on Twitter, actually. Thought that was cool.

      Some of my youth group kids have signed up for Twitter, but none of them are active on it. They created an account, tweeted two or three times, and that was it.

  • Yeah, facebook is on the way out in general. In each of our individual settings though it really depends on how many cutting edge and early adopting kids we have as to when it will effect us in ministry.

  • I've been wondering if Second Life is the next big thing that teens will gravitate towards, especially with the video-game culture we live in. That scares me because of the recent review that Jonathan McKee did on it. How do youth pastors stay connected with teens in that kind of environment?

    • Both the teen and adult versions of Second Life have been around for many years now and neither are really catching on with the general population of youth culture. Sure, there are teens that have checked it out and even actively play it, but I think it appeals to a very small demographic/sub-culture of kids. Second Life also isn't mobile and it doesn't lead to or have much to do with face-to-face relationships, so I'm not counting on it becoming a huge phenomenon.

    • I heard from a Youth for Christ (YFC) staff member who works in YFC's Asia-Pacific region that YFC Taiwan is using Second Life in a powerful way!

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  • I agree. I joined Facebook 2 years ago to connect with the students in my ministry. At that time college students were abandoning Facebook in protest that it was now available to the general public. I have noticed in the last 3 months esp since the last Facebook redesign that less and less of my students are using it. There is less chatter and updating; whereas more adults are joining using it to connect with college friends and keep family connected. I think Facebook has done themselves a diservice by having so many changes. Whoever comes up with the next BIG idea for teens and young college will score big.

    • I'm not sure Facebook has done a huge disservice, because their network continues to grow. It's just that the demographic of users is changing. Like most people here are saying, it shifted from being primarily college students (when I joined it) to being teens and now adults. That's not necessarily bad for Facebook, it just won't keep a general population of teens immersed in it for too much longer.

  • I believe it won't take 2 years. I definitely agree that face to face will never go away, but I perhaps they'll go to mainly to video IMs or phone video chats. That way they can still use their face to face without having to be in the place where they other person is. Think about it…when it gets uncomfortable they can simply cut it off. No messy feelings. Isn't that the real reason why we use social sites, IMs, & Txt?

    • I don't think video will be a substitute for face-to-face meetings. People long for deeper intimacy than what video provides. There's something about being present with someone that can't be fabricated just by looking at them on a screen.

  • I think it the thinking on this is right on but I believe the time limit is relative to where you live. I have kids in my group who don' t have a FB or have just gotten on. For that matter, I have kids who are just now getting on myspace… (don't know why but they are) Very few of my kids use twitter and most of them don't even really know how it works. In NM we are usually a few years behind on major technological advancements, so it may be longer than that. But, b/c youth are always changing (I mean what other group has a complete turnover every 6 years?) something else will be the "next big thing."

    Good Post.

  • Ricky

    Good post Tim. On the front page of this morning the main article says that the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users are women over the age of 55! While it doesn't address the younger generation directly it does reinforce you article. Here's the link –

  • Well, in my small rural pocket of East Texas my kids are all on myspace with only one or two on FB. However, we were just talking at youth group last night and some of the kids said "I hardly ever check my myspace page any more." but another girl said "I'm going to open a FB account next year" to which I asked why. She said next year just seemed like a good time to do it. So maybe my kids are behind the technology curve, but I can tell you they are moving away from Myspace. I don't have a twitter account but have thought about getting one if it will enhance my ministry and communication. My kids barely even know what twitter is. Keep up the good work. Good stuff.

  • I regularly hear from my students that "Facebook is lame" and "MySpace is so much better." I just couldn't bring myself to use MS as a social networking tool for ministry- too much questionable content.
    So I am forced to find other ways to connect with students in the digital world. Email, Tatango, etc have all proven valuable.

  • Thanks for the insight. From my experience teens did not really ever buy into Facebook. Facebook appears to be generally for the GenXers. However, with all things in life things change, but not we have to know that changes are going to occur generally quicker than they have in the past due to technology.

  • Hmmm…interesting. I think that this could be a large and swooping theory, but the for the most part it makes sense. This is something that many Lead Pastors will not grasp (that is parents usually adults typically scare away teens) and it's tough to describe, but in the the next two year we will soon see.

  • Shawn

    "Teens gravitate to something, usually under criticism from adults, until it becomes common and mainstream." There's the money quote, and something I tried to dovetail off of at our YM meeting last night about sex and dating….

    Teens formulate their culture based on what they think adults expect them to do…rebel. So, why not REALLY rebel against the rebellion itself and really confuse the "grownups" – a revival among youth could be exactly that, and, I see it becoming more and more likely.

  • I have to go against the flow, I don't think that will happen. I have more and more of my students using it daily. I think what you may see is it become regional…depending on the general attitude of the teens in an area. California might go off it as one of the first due to a fast paced, always wanting the newest thing….keeping up with the Jones. Other states an regions may stay with it feeling that "it works" for what they do. I think some of it also has to do with Facebooks ability to keep and ear to the ground while keeping their feet moving. If they can give students what they want, they wont lose them. As far as the mobile aspect and being tied down to a computer. My phone gives me full functionality of Facebook. Time will tell. I can say this I do like FB much better than some of the trash on the "other" social media giant that has been hit by the stone of FB sling. I'm just say….

  • MB McCandless

    While I think it's probable that teens will find (have already found?) new ways to connect with each other, I think there is value in the potential to have easy access to information through Facebook groups. Even if all of my kids think Facebook is generally overrun by adults – they actually think it's pretty cool to occasionally (operative word!) comment on their lives – a thumbs up (Likes this) is almost always enough! Then they have the opportunity to easily send you a private message if they want to talk. I think those who've said it may follow some type of regional patterns are probably right. I also think that many (most of the ones I know) teens actually had parents who said – fine, you can have an account, but I'll have one too and I will be paying attention. I think this is where a lot of the growth among parents is and that a lot of parents have inadvertently discovered that it's fun to reconnect with old friends.

  • MB McCandless

    [part 2 – I'm long winded!]
    I think that teens will keep Facebook for occasional (if not regular) check ins and as contact lists as they move from high school to college to grad school and beyond. With the new privacy tools and easy labeling of friends and creating lists – teens only rarely have to be totally vulnerable to their parents and other adults… will be interesting to watch.

  • Steve in his video post makes a good point. The youth that are now 10-13 are the ones that for the most part have not yet been on Facebook. So, I think they will embrace some newer social media tool set and lead the charge in a new direction.

  • Cluelesser

    Facebook has been a real blessing to our family. My wife was prob the first adult on, having been invited by our daughter as soon as it became public. We followed her all around the world on FB, and we continue to track our kids and their friends. It is a public avenue of communication, which is fine with most people, no matter what the age. I think that everyone has accepted that and will continue to use it.

    The next avenue for the young people, I believe, has actually been around for a couple of years. It is private, real time, and esoteric. It is texting. Even though our son has forced us to adopt it, it's a real pain. We even had to adjust our phone service to allow for the huge increase. It is the perfect form of communication among the young, since the old think it's a waste of time and money. It will be top dog for awhile, until we can just talk personally to someone through our watches. While we had dinner with our junior in college today, there wasn't one cell phone call. Only about ten texts which he read and replied to while pretending that he was listening to us. LOL

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  • Enjoyed the post Tim. Hadn't given it much thought but I completely agree with and can identify with the culture and technology cycles. Keep providing thought provoking content!

  • Really blog. Keep on posting, I will subscribe. How do youthink of the new Nokia N97?

  • Joe White

    We can spend a lot of mental energy trying to forecast what the next 'cool' technology will be.

    But there are a lot of kids who aren't 'cool' or tech friendly or even very social, for that matter.

    They are largely forgotten or ignored by today's culture.

    If we would take time to learn how to talk to these kids one-on-one, (without worrying about how to do it hi-tech to show how up-to-date we are), it might be the answer to their unspoken prayer.

    • I appreciate your comment, Joe, and the heart you clearly have for the "forgotten" and "ignored" kids. I disagree, however, that watching for the latest "cool" technology is a waste of time when most of our youth group kids are/will be active there. Plus, the demographic of kids you're taking about are almost always very active online because they find the attention there that they miss in real life. Maybe that's not true in your experience or your ministry context, but it is definitely true in most places.

  • I disagree for the most part. The only element to take into consideration that stumps your theory Tim is the fact that Facebook is a shape-shifting organism. I think that "Facebook" as we know it will not succeed in the next two years, but that Facebook won't exist anymore. Unlike other applications like that stay cemented in the ground, Facebook (in-line with it's current track-record) will make big, even hasty changes to survive and thrive. My list of teens is large and getting daily by the way.

    • Yeah, you could be right. Sounds like a valid theory to me. Guess we'll have to wait and see. :)

    • Thanks for the link, Dennis. Looks like my theory is on the right track, but the 2-years might be a bit soon. *shrugs*

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  • Ray

    I agree that teens are always looking for the next new & cool thing. I also agree that FB is difficult to utilize – especially if you have a large number of friends. However, I suspect that FB will create new ways to "shape" what you want to see. Presently, I have a LOT of my "friends" hidden. I created lists to group friends so that I can check just one particular group and ignore the rest. But I was late getting to this party and I was late getting to FB. So, I probably am already late in the guessing the future game as well. <grin> BTW, this a very nice site! You did a great job. Congratulations.

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