Considerations for youth and social networking – Part 6: The role of photo captions

Help youth take a critical look at how a photo caption can change the photo’s perception.

According to “Teens, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015” by the Pew Research Center, nearly three-quarters of teenagers ages 13-17 have access to a smartphone. Of those teens, 92 percent report going online daily and 71 percent say they are using at least one social networking site. With this high usage of social networking and teenagers going online, there are many factors adults should consider when helping youth navigate their usage of social networking sites.

In addition, youth enjoy sharing photos through social media tools as is evident by the popularity of Instagram and Snapchat with younger demographics. It is extremely important to help youth understand how to properly caption a photo because the caption can change the photo’s entire perception.

Adults need to be aware of two major factors when addressing captioning of photos.

Pictures can be taken in a variety of ways. Help youth understand every picture that is shared with others paints a picture of that youth. Others can use this information to make assumptions about the youth or even locate a youth.

Imagine seeing a photo of a group of youth who are doing a park clean-up where everyone who sees the photo can come away with a different opinion on what is happening. Some people will think that is a great group of youth who are trying to help out the community, while others would question why those youth are cleaning the park or what did they do wrong to have to clean up the park.

For example, look at the two following caption options: “It’s a great day to do a park clean up” or “UGH, why do I have to doing this?” Each gives the viewer a different perspective on what is happening.

Pictures are a way youth look for feedback and advice. Many times, youth will post photos online with a question seeking advice or wanting feedback from their friends. For example, if a youth shares a photo on social media asking, “What should I do?” this simple caption could get a whole range of responses, some positive, sarcastic or even negative.

Due to the ease of being able to type a response behind a screen, the advice may not be genuine. Adults need to take the time to have a conversation with youth about thinking before responding to a photo caption.

Youth enjoy sharing photos through social media, so help them understand how the caption they give a photo can completely change a photo. Help youth understand that every picture that is shared with others paints a picture of that youth. Others can use these photos and captions to start making assumptions about the youth that could have negative consequences.

Technology changes, apps come and go, and the next wave in social media platforms will come about. Those changes may occur, but it does not change that we need to help youth think about the photos they share and the captions they write on a phone. Adults should be continually reminding youth that they need to take a few moments to think before sharing a photo.

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