Social Media

Who Do Your Teens Follow?

What does it mean to follow someone on social media?

In social media, a follow represents a user who chooses to see all of another user’s posts in their content feed. Getting followers is a primary objective for online businesses [and for celebrities seeking popularity]. A follow expresses interest in receiving constant updates, indicating a higher level of engagement (than “likes”, for example) with followers.

Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Tumblr follows work differently than Facebook. On these platforms, any user can follow any other user. On Facebook, you automatically follow people you have friended. If you “like” a page, following that page is automatic. Many celebrities allow everybody to follow them.

Who are some of the top celebrities that teens follow?

For the most part, teens follow people they know first. Then, they follow popular athletes, actors who star in their favorite movies, and singers and musicians who play their favorite songs. Here are some ideas on a few of the celebrities that teens may follow:

  • ATHLETES: Teens reported that they follow the big names in sports, especially in the sports they play. Tennis players repeatedly reported following Roger Fetterer and Serena Williams, both because of their tennis acumen and their ability to motivate. Serena was noted for her personal sharing as inspirational. The state champion in golf follows Tiger Woods and does so because he considers Tiger Woods the best in the game. He admires his work ethic and said he tries to emulate that in the four hours he spends putting every evening. The entire basketball team follows LeBron James “just because he is LeBron James” though the girls who follow him report enjoying the posts he shares about this family and the work of his foundation (Note: these are Ohio teens before his signing with the Lakers!).
  • ACTORS: Teens follow actors they admire. Specifically, the sample of teens mentioned the following:
    • Idina Menzel: “She inspired me to go into the theatre after I saw her in Wicked. She’s amazing.”
    • Selena Gomez: “She’s so open about her depression and anxiety. She is honest and real. She even donated a kidney. She helped me have the courage to open up about my own struggles.
    • Finn Wolfhard [Stranger Things]: “He is such a cute little kid who is funny and makes me laugh. Pure entertainment.”
    • Emma Watson [Harry Potter’s Hermione]: “I grew up with her. She is a good actress and I relate to her activism for gender equality.”
    • Elle Fanning [Super 8; We Bought a Zoo]: “I love the clothes she posts because I am so into fashion. She is a model AND an actor.”
    • Gina Rodriguez [Jane the Virgin; Deepwater Horizon]: “I love her work and she is an anti-bullying advocate. She is supporting scholarships for fellow Hispanics, which I think is cool.”
    • Lily Collins [teen daughter in Blindside; author – Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me]: “She posts uplifting quotes and I loved her book.”
  • MUSICIANS: It is plain and simple here. Teens follow musicians whose music speaks to them. So which musicians and singers they follow are constantly changing. Specifically highlighted as currently followed:
    • Luke Combs (country)
    • Hailee Steinfeld (pop; Pitch Perfect 2)
    • Taylor Swift (pop/country crossover) Teens followed her in middle school and unfollowed in high school, “when her style and message changed.”
    • Shaina Twain (country) Teens say her songs provoke special memories.
    • Lady Gaga (pop) Teens say “…she’s so talented and so outrageous!”
    • Ed Sheeran (pop/folk) Teens “…just plain love his music!”
    • Matt Maher (Catholic/Christian) Teens say “his music is so singable and has an inspirational message.”

Whether it is an Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter follow, the content of follows influence teens. But not as much as people they know and love do, aka their parents. Therefore, it is fair and reasonable for parents to guide who their teens follow.

Here are a few thoughts about HOW to do that with the least amount of pushback from your teen:

  1. Most likely, you pay the cell phone bill. Therefore you have the right (and the duty!) to guide the use of their cell phone, and that includes social media follows.
  2. Have a conversation with your teen about who he or she follows. If you ask with genuine interest and NOT with the notion to censor, you will learn a great deal. They put much thought into who they follow.
  3. Make sure your teen knows that to follow a celebrity is to agree with them, so they should use their “follows” with discretion. Follows should align with their values…and yours.
  4. IF necessary, establish rules about follows. Follows bring information to your teen that can influence them, so make sure it is balanced with the Gospel message.
  5. Consider establishing times in the life of your family where everyone unplugs. This puts the focus on face-to-face relationships, engaging without the distractions, interruptions, and influences of constant connection to social media. It will be a great gift to everyone!

About the Author

Beth Davis

Beth has ministered to teens and those who love them for many years. After earning both her BS and MS degrees from Indiana University, she worked as a high school English teacher and later as the first youth minister in her home parish, St. Mary in Hudson, Ohio. There, she helped launch Life Teen, now in its 23rd year at St. Mary. Eventually, she traveled all over the country training youth ministers in the Life Teen model for youth ministry and still serves on their national Board of Directors. She is currently the Director of Campus Ministry at Notre Dame – Cathedral Latin School in Chardon, Ohio. She and her husband Deacon Kent have four grown daughters, two sons-in-law, and, as of April, one grandchild.