How teens are using YouTube? A map of practices, uses, and metaphors


This research focuses on one part of the outcomes of Transmedia Literacy Research Project (European Union’s Horizon 2020) on teens, transmedia skills and informal learning strategies. The project was carried out in eight countries from Europe, Latin America and Oceania between 2015 and 2018. A multi-method approach was used in the study (1633 questionnaires, 58 creative and participatory workshops, 90 media diaries, 311 in-depth interviews, and observation of eight online communities) to explore what teens are doing with media and how they learn to do it. This article focuses on the main outputs related to the uses teens make of YouTube. YouTube occupies a central role in the media life of teens (Ito et al., 2010; Pereira, Moura, & Fillol, 2018). During the data-gathering phase of the research, it was clear that teens could approach YouTube as a key space of their media diet and, in some cases, as their main source of information. YouTube is for many teens the main search engine. It is a platform that offers teens not only entertainment but also generates a sense of community and can be an informal learning space for them.

Therefore, this study aims are:

  • To present a map of the most relevant teen YouTube uses and practices;
  • To identify, describe and analyse the most relevant metaphors of YouTube detected in teens’ discourses

Taking into account the important role YouTube plays for teens, in a time when multiple instances of social life are expressed and conditioned by digital media and platforms, by looking at media practices it is possible to better understand the unique social processes that are enacted through them (Couldry, 2012).

Studying teens’ practices and uses within a platform like YouTube offers a universe of possibilities for understanding these social phenomena. Therefore, the article presents a map of the uses and practices teens make of YouTube and the metaphors that emerge when teens put these uses and practices into discourse. Five YouTube uses were detected: radiophonic, televisual, social, productive and educative. These uses vary according to the practices performed by teens and how they are related to the logics of the YouTube platform. Moreover, the identified metaphors show the ways teens’ uses are related to their everyday routines and the way they integrate the YouTube platform into various dimensions of their daily life, such as their media practices, and the way they acquire knowledge and skills.

Keywords: YouTube, teenagers, uses, practices, metaphors, platforms, informal learning


Couldry, N. (2012). Media, society, world: Social theory and digital media practice. Cambrige: Polity Press

Ito, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., boyd, d., Cody, R., Herr-Stephenson, B., … Tripp, L. (2010). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Pereira, S., Moura, P., & Fillol, J. (2018). The YouTubers Phenomenon: What Makes YouTube Stars so Popular for Young People? Fonseca, Journal of Communication, (17), 107–123.