Archive for February, 2011
They do it late at night when their parents are asleep. They do it in restaurants and while crossing busy streets. They do it in the classroom with their hands behind their back. They do it so much their thumbs hurt.
Spurred by the unlimited texting plans offered by carriers like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.
Dr. Martin Joffe, a pediatrician in Greenbrae, Calif., recently surveyed students at two local high schools and said he found that many were routinely sending hundreds of texts every day.
“That’s one every few minutes,” he said. “Then you hear that these kids are responding to texts late at night. That’s going to cause sleep issues in an age group that’s already plagued with sleep issues.”
The rise in texting is too recent to have produced any conclusive data on health effects. But Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who is director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and who has studied texting among teenagers in the Boston area for three years, said it might be causing a shift in the way adolescents develop.
“Among the jobs of adolescence are to separate from your parents, and to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be,” she said. “Texting hits directly at both those jobs.”
Psychologists expect to see teenagers break free from their parents as they grow into autonomous adults, Professor Turkle went on, “but if technology makes something like staying in touch very, very easy, that’s harder to do; now you have adolescents who are texting their mothers 15 times a day, asking things like, ‘Should I get the red shoes or the blue shoes?’ ”
As for peace and quiet, she said, “if something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes, it makes it very difficult to be in that state of mind.
“If you’re being deluged by constant communication, the pressure to answer immediately is quite high,” she added. “So if you’re in the middle of a thought, forget it.”
Michael Hausauer, a psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., said teenagers had a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” For that reason, he said, the rapid rise in texting has potential for great benefit and great harm.
“Texting can be an enormous tool,” he said. “It offers companionship and the promise of connectedness. At the same time, texting can make a youngster feel frightened and overly exposed.”
Texting may also be taking a toll on teenagers’ thumbs. Annie Wagner, 15, a ninth-grade honor student in Bethesda, Md., used to text on her tiny LG phone as fast as she typed on a regular keyboard. A few months ago, she noticed a painful cramping in her thumbs. (Lately, she has been using the iPhone she got for her 15th birthday, and she says texting is slower and less painful.)
Peter W. Johnson, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington, said it was too early to tell whether this kind of stress is damaging. But he added,
“Based on our experiences with computer users, we know intensive repetitive use of the upper extremities can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, so we have some reason to be concerned that too much texting could lead to temporary or permanent damage to the thumbs.”
Annie said that although her school, like most, forbids cellphone use in class, with the LG phone she could text by putting it under her coat or desk.
Her classmate Ari Kapner said, “You pretend you’re getting something out of your backpack.”
Teachers are often oblivious. “It’s a huge issue, and it’s rampant,” said Deborah Yager, a high school chemistry teacher in Castro Valley, Calif. Ms. Yager recently gave an anonymous survey to 50 of her students; most said they texted during class.
“I can’t tell when it’s happening, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said. “And I’m not going to take the time every day to try to police it.”
Dr. Joffe says parents tend to be far less aware of texting than of, say, video game playing or general computer use, and the unlimited plans often mean that parents stop paying attention to billing details. “I talk to parents in the office now,” he said. “I’m quizzing them, and no one is thinking about this.”
Still, some parents are starting to take measures. Greg Hardesty, a reporter in Lake Forest, Calif., said that late last year his 13-year-old daughter, Reina, racked up 14,528 texts in one month. She would keep the phone on after going to bed, switching it to vibrate and waiting for it to light up and signal an incoming message.
Mr. Hardesty wrote a column about Reina’s texting in his newspaper, The Orange County Register, and in the flurry of attention that followed, her volume soared to about 24,000 messages. Finally, when her grades fell precipitously, her parents confiscated the phone.
Reina’s grades have since improved, and the phone is back in her hands, but her text messages are limited to 5,000 per month — and none between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays.
Yet she said there was an element of hypocrisy in all this: her mother, too, is hooked on the cellphone she carries in her purse.
“She should understand a little better, because she’s always on her iPhone,” Reina said. “But she’s all like, ‘Oh well, I don’t want you texting.’ ” (Her mother, Manako Ihaya, said she saw Reina’s point.) Professor Turkle can sympathize. “Teens feel they are being punished for behavior in which their parents indulge,” she said. And in what she calls a poignant twist, teenagers still need their parents’ undivided attention.
“Even though they text 3,500 messages a week, when they walk out of their ballet lesson, they’re upset to see their dad in the car on the BlackBerry,” she said. “The fantasy of every adolescent is that the parent is there, waiting, expectant, completely there for them.”
People Now Text More Than Talk
Between July 2008 and July 2009, mobile users in the U.S. sent more than 1.3 trillion text messages, almost double the 660 billion calls they made, according to CTIA — the Wireless Association. Yet advertisers are still struggling with how to use texting for marketing.
It’s not that marketers haven’t tried to use texting as an ad platform — many have. They just haven’t seemed to figure out how to use it effectively. But a look at the usage statistics makes it clear that marketers need to sort it out fast.
A December 2009 study by the Pew Research Center showed that 68% of cellphone owners 18 and older send text messages. A deeper dive reveals the biggest texters to be 18- to 24-year-olds (95%). And while that stat shouldn’t floor anyone, what may surprise is just how many people are texting within the older sets, including 25- to 34-year-olds (87%); 35-44 (74%); 45-54 (69%); 55-64 (43%) and 65-plus (20%).
Our children are called the “Net Generation,” and rightly so. Digital media is no longer a luxury but a mainstream in their lives. After all, this is the first group born into the era of iPods, iPads, cell phones, text messaging, skype, podcasts, and blogs. And they are plugging in.
The average American eight to 18 year-old is now plugged into some kind of digital media seven and a half hours a day.
Reports show that youth online time is steadily increasing by 38 percent in just five years.
Let’s face it, technology is transforming our kids’ lives. But what affect will all that plugged-in time have?
The truth is our children’s engagement in the digital world is so new that researchers are still unclear as to how it will play out in their lives. And there lies the reason we need to tune in closer. New reports about our Net Generation reveal a danger that may be overlooked
Overlooked dangers for Gen Text
A report that I shared last week the TODAY Show by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future Survey shows a possible concerning downslide to technology. A small but growing number of parents are realizing that all that digital world has a unexpected and negative outcome.
Plugged in time is reducing our children’s face-to-face time with real live human beings. At stake: the strength of our bond with our children, strong family interactions, and the development of empathy. Child experts and parents alike are now realizing that one of the biggest dangers for the Net Generation may well be the diminishment of the parental-child relationship.
Beware: Research confirms that the more time kids spend plugged in the more likely there are to report a lower attachment to parents or difficulty forming that crucial relationship or emotional bond.
The fact is kids don’t learn crucial life and character skills such as empathy, communication, emotional intelligence, sharing, friendship-making, leadership, social skills, conflict resolution, listening, compassion, tolerance (the list goes on but I think you get my drift) by facing screens. Kids don’t acquire moral, social and emotional development from plugging in. And kids do not strengthen their relationships with their family when they attached to a digital device.
Remember: It’s not just what are kids are plugging in that matters but what they are tuning out of! If the answer is to their their family and friends, then BEWARE!
Strengthening Face to Face Connections in A Digital World
Your parenting goal is to ensure that you are the primary influence and filter in your child’s life. While there are dangers in a too plugged-in world, there also are solutions to ensure family interactions aren’t jeopardized.
Last week I chatted on the TODAY show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb about the challenges of parenting kids in a digital world. Here are tips I shared to strengthen your family’s face-to-face interaction, manage your time together, and ensure that your child’s social and moral development aren’t affected–despite the digital world.
Stay educated. Keeping abreast with what is new in technology and what our kids are into will certainly raise our chances of raising the Net Generation to be physically and emotionally healthy. Here are just a few ways:
Ways to Stay Educated About the New Digital World
Read the directions on each new digital purchase.
Have discussions with other parents about the digital world.
Attend workshops offered by your child’s school or the local police department.
Regularly assess reports in the news or online.
Ask your kids to teach you how to use the new digital device.
Sit down and watch or play that computer game with your child.
Learn to use what your child is using.
Get into your child’s digital world. Wii console and familyConnecting with your kids via their favored technology to communicate (such as Iming, texting or cell) allows you to stay in their world while nurturing your relationship. Kids are always more open to our involvement when we enter their world instead of insisting that they joins ours. Play the video game with your child. Ask your child to teach you to text. Skype as a family with the grandparents. Watch a favorite TV show together. But don’t forget to also turn and chat about what you’re doing!
Assess your family’s current plugged in habits. Over the next few days do an informal reality check of your family. Note the extent each family member is currently “plugged in” and to which type of technology (computer, video games, ipod, television). Some families set a post-it on each technology outlet to serve as an informal time card to jot the time the device was turned on and off. Identify those ideal times during the day such as the dinner hour, for face-to-face interactions. Is technology hindering those moments? For instance: Are kids watching TV instead of tuning into dad? Are they texting instead of listening to the bedtime story? Also check your family’s cell phones, texts and tweet logs. Add up the minutes. How much time is your family plugged in? Do you need to reduce that time? If so, when?
Turn off TV when not watching: 64% of 8-18 year olds surveyed say the TV is usually on during family meals [Kaiser Family Foundation]
Create “sacred” unplugged times. Set specific times to remain “unplugged.” Ask your kids for input. Prime family times might be family meal, those fire-side discussions, family meeting, or at an outing which involves other family members. The aim is to strike a balance between plugged and unplugged that works for your family. Then announce those “sacred times.”
The 3 T Rule: Set a family rule: “No Texting, Taping or Talking”–on cell–during our family times. Extend that rule to also include “Whenever a human being is in your presence and wants to chat.”
Turn off your cell! Make sure you follow your own digital rules. Kids say that family meals, school activities, sporting events and after school (pick up and welcoming connectors) are times when they are most bothered by their parents’ networking behaviors. Turn off your cell phone during those times!
Don’t be media-lenient. Studies show that children whose parents set clear technology rules -spend less time with media than their peers. In fact only 52% of 8-18 year olds say their parents set rules about what they’re allowed to do on computer.
Survey: Parents Set Too Few Media Rules
Relatively few 7-12th graders say their parents establish any rules about talking or texting on a cell phone
27% of tweens/teens have family rules about amount of time they can spend talking on the phone
14% of tweens/teen say they have rules about the number of texts allowed to send
-Kaiser Family Foundation
Reduce technology distractions during family time. Don’t put a TV in your kids’ bedrooms where they can retreat from family life. Turn the television off when no one is watching. Turn on your phone’s answering machine during sacred family times. Leave the computer in a central family spot where you can connect you’re your kids even for a short backrub. Let the off-switch work to create quality family interactions.
Turn the TV off: Research finds that leaving the TV when unwatched is a communication barrio especially to younger kids or those who are more easily distracted.
Focus on face-to-face interaction. One-on one communication enhances the parent-child relationship; boosts communication and allows parents to model (which is the best way to teach any skill) those essential interpersonal social and emotional skills our tech-dependent kids need. Take time for those crucial informal chats! Discussion topics are endless (if you’re needing some). A hint: use your children’s world: Clip interesting articles from the newspaper. Discuss the new movie reviews. Debate who is going to win that big game or the election (and who really should). Go online and peruse your kids’ school website to chat about those upcoming activities.
Use the “eye color rule”: To help encourage eye contact, face-to-face interaction and tuning into one another enforce one family rule: “Always look at the color of the talker’s eye.”
Add friends to your kids’ schedule. Friends do play an important role in our children’s social and emotional development. Friends are crucial to our children’s self-esteem and the development of social skills. Check your child’s calendar and make sure “be with friend” is added to the agenda. And when your child is with pal, make it an “unplugged play date.”
Stress “WE” vs “Me. Find ways for your family—and particularly your child – to do community service and empathize others not themselves. Work at a shelter. Deliver gently-used possession to charity. Pitch in together to help the elderly neighbor rake her leaves. Also point out other people’s feelings And ask often: How does the other person feel? All are important ways to help your child start focusing on the feelings of others.
There is no doubt that technology will help shape our children’s attitudes, behaviors and character, but remember: Fifty years of solid child development research confirms that the most powerful source of psychological impact on children are the strength of their relationship with their parents. For that there are no shortcuts or computer programs: it’s only achieved by applying that timeless, unplugged, good ol parenting strategy of quality face-to-face communication with our kids.
Originally posted: February 4th, 2011