Teens, Technology, and Media

Recently, I saw an infographic on teens and the internet.  Frankly it seemed a bit doom and gloom, highlighting the negatives and not really mentioning any positives, so I turned to “pure” research sources – the Pew Research Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation – for some perspective on U.S. digital natives, i.e. teens and tweens.

First, let me explain why these sources should be considered pure research. Essentially, they are nonprofit organizations that have no agenda other than to freely provide data collected about current issues. In their own words:

“Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research does not take policy positions.” [Retrieved 4/15/13 from http://www.pewresearch.org/about/ ]

“[T]he Kaiser Family Foundation is dedicated to filling the need for trusted, independent information on the major health issues facing our nation and its people.  Kaiser is a non-profit, private operating foundation […].  Unlike grant-making foundations, Kaiser develops and runs its own research and communications programs, sometimes in partnership with other non-profit research organizations or major media companies. We serve as a non-partisan source of facts, information, and analysis for policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the public. Our product is information, always provided free of charge — from the most sophisticated policy research, to basic facts and numbers….” [Retrieved 4/15/13 from http://www.kff.org/about/index2.cfm ]

Second, when survey questions are worded properly, the resulting data is unbiased – it is what it is – and those writing articles and blog posts can manipulate or massage the results to bolster their opinions and promote their agenda. My opinion? The combination of teens, technology and media is more positive than not. My agenda? To promote research from which readers can draw their own conclusions.

Digital Natives
Technology and media (television, computers, music, and the internet) are wholly intertwined in our daily lives, from the phone in our pocket to the DVD players in our crossovers to the ereaders and tablet computers in our homes, schools and offices. Over the past decade, the rate of technology development is unprecedented; the imperative is to keep up with rapid change or be left behind. Today’s teens and tweens were born into this continually evolving environment. They are digital natives.  For them, using technology and media is second nature and, to some extent, their digital literacy can be termed exceptional. They are so comfortable with devices and gadgets it is like an extension of their hands. Adults are digital immigrants.  For some, adapting to constant change is easy; but for many adults, change is uncomfortable and even a bit scary.

[Madden, Mary; Lenhart, Amanda; Duggan, Maeve; Cortesi, Sandra; and Gasser, Urs. Teens and Technology 2013. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Report Released March 2013. Image retrieved 4/16/13 from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-and-Tech/Main-Findings/Teens-and-Technology.aspx p. 3.]

Two areas in which teens and adults have adapted well is cell phone and internet use. As part of Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, researchers examined cell phone/smartphone ownership and internet use by teens (ages 12-18) and adults. Their findings were released in Teens and Technology 2013.

95% of teens are online (consistent since 2006);
78% of teens have a cell phone;
37% of teens have a smartphone;
74% of teens access the internet on a mobile device – cell phone, tablets, laptops, etc. – at least occasionally ; and,
74% of adults (ages 18-49) access the internet on a mobile device.

“In many ways, teens represent the leading edge of mobile connectivity, and the patterns of their technology use often signal future changes in the adult population.” [Madden, Mary, et.al. Teens and Technology 2013. Retrieved 4/15/13 from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-and-Tech.aspx, p. 3.] Teens are the early adopters of mobile internet access and may very well be influencing older generations.

Technology in the Classroom
It isn’t just at home. Just as numerous adults are exposed to technology and media in their workplaces, teens are surrounded at school. Smartboards, laptops attached to projectors, computer labs, and yes, even cell phones and tablets may be part of your teen’s daily classroom routine. Twenty-five years ago, typing was a popular elective in middle, junior, and/or high schools. Now, and for several years, keyboarding classes are a requirement in many middle and junior high schools, and may even be offered in some upper elementary (4th and 5th grade) schools. Seventh graders are creating PowerPoint presentations for history projects. High school juniors are exploring statistics using Excel and Access. Middle and high school students are filming and editing video for electives like film-making and journalism. Many titles on school summer reading lists can be downloaded as audio books to an iPod or MP3 player or as an electronic book to a PC or tablet.

In collaboration with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the College Board, Pew Research Center surveyed nearly 2,500 Advanced Placement (AP) and NWP teachers about the digital tools they are using. How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms was released February 28, 2013, and mobile devices are common in the classroom.

[Purcell, Kristen; Heaps, Alan; Buchanan, Judy; and, Friedrich, Linda. How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Report released February 28, 2013. Image retrieved 4/16/13 from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teachers-and-technology/Main-Report/Part-3.aspx p. 35.]

The study also found that AP and NWP teachers were more likely than the overall adult population to own cell phones, iPods, laptops, and tablets. Perhaps this is related to the theory that teens are the early adopters, and embracing tech is a method teachers have chosen to stay relevant and connected to their students.

It is interesting to note that younger teachers (ages 22-34) were the most likely to have students “develop or share work on a website, wiki or blog… to have students participate in online discussions… and use collaborative web-based tools such as GoogleDocs to edit work…” [Purcell, Kristen, et.al. How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms. Retrieved 4/15/13 from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teachers-and-technology.aspx, p. 38.]

[Purcell, Kristen, et.al.  How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms. Image retrieved 4/16/13 from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teachers-and-technology/Main-Report/Part-3.aspx p. 37.]

It is important to remember that the teachers in this survey have students who are academically above average and, regardless of their particular school’s budget, may have access to technology and training not available to the rest of the faculty at their schools.

Media Consumption
Although it is a bit older, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s January 2010 study Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds points to a direct relationship between increased media use and the explosion of mobile and online media options, i.e. technology. For the purposes of this study, media includes television, movies, music/audio, iPods/MP3 players, video games, print materials, cell phones, and computers/laptops (excluding time used for school work). The study also defines media multitasking as the time using multiple media concurrently, such as listening to an iPod while surfing the Internet. Overall, total media use on a typical day for 11-14 year-olds is nearly nine hours (8:40), and when multitasking is considered, it jumps to nearly twelve hours (11:53); for 15-18 year-olds, just short of eight hours (7:58) is spent in a typical day, or 11:23 when multitasking. [Retrieved 4/15/13 from Generation M2 p. 5] That is a huge chunk of a teen’s day. How is that even possible?

“[T]he development of mobile media has allowed… young people to find even more opportunities throughout the day for using media, actually expanding the number of hours when they can consume media, often while on the go.” [Generation M2 p. 3] We live in a time when broadcast television schedules mean nothing – the development of TiVo, DVRs and watching tv on a computer or cell phone means teens (and adults) can catch Monday night’s episode of The Following after school Wednesday or save the entire season for a sleepover after mid-term exams. Our pervasive technology is becoming multifunctional – users can:

play video games, live chat, and take pictures with a Nintendo DS;
read a book, surf the internet, watch movies with a tablet; and
text, talk, play games, take pictures, engage in social media with a cell/smartphone.

One aspect the Kaiser survey touched on was the lack of rules concerning media consumption. “[P]arents seem to be a lot more likely to put limits on the types of content their children can consume than on the amount of time they can spend consuming it.” [Generation M2 p. 36] There is a marked difference in rules depending on the age group:

Percent of children whose parents have rules on which tv shows can be viewed – 66% of 8-10-year-olds, 51% of 11-14-year-olds, and 26% of 15-18-year-olds.
Percent of children whose parents have rules on how much time they can spend watching tv – 47% of 8-10-year-olds, 27% of 11-14-year-olds, and 16% of 15-18-year-olds.
[Generation M2 p. 17]

Permanence of Change
What this boils down to is that, regardless of age, technology and media have become integral to our daily lives, and will always be in a constant state of flux. Adaptable teens encourage adults to embrace the chaos of evolving technology. Together with their teens, parents should formulate family rules of use, acknowledging that these rules will change over time, not only as technology changes but as teens mature into adulthood.

-Carolyn A.


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