Are Teens Hiding Behind The Screen?

By Guest Author Jonathan Nielsen

picture of doll sitting in empty stadium“R U 4 real?” The use of phrases like this demonstrate how technology has managed to merge itself with the social life of teenagers in the form of instant messaging, text messaging and social networking sites such as Facebook. A little observation will tell anyone that a large percentage of a teen’s time is spent texting on his or her phone or chatting online. With so much time devoted to these activities, researchers want to know if there are any side effects.

Pierce set out to examine the effects that teen usage of these technologies might have on their social life. She conducted a study that sought to determine if there was a relationship between recent social technologies and shyness among teenagers. In the study, 280 teenagers answered survey questions regarding how much time they spend on socially interactive technologies such as text messaging, instant messaging, and social networking sites. In addition to finding out how much time teenagers spent on these technologies, the survey also asked questions regarding each teen’s feelings toward face-to-face communication.

The results revealed a clear connection between social introversion and the socially interactive technologies. Those who disliked personal communication were more likely to use socially interactive technologies. This suggests that these new technologies are providing shy individuals with a comfortable means of communication, while replacing any opportunities that these individuals may have had to get over their timidity by practicing face-to-face communication. Lastly, the author concludes that since these technologies are relatively new, society has yet to discover all of the possible consequences.

With the results of this study in mind, it is crucial for teens to evaluate their personal use of these technologies. Do they substitute personal time with friends for time on Facebook? Do they text their friends more than they call them? Are they using these technologies as a way to avoid their social anxieties? As foreign as these problems may be to parents and teachers, the answers to these questions are important to a teen’s future success in life. Face-to-face communication is vital in the workplace, and many teenagers may not be properly developing the necessary interpersonal skills; therefore, these questions must not be avoided. All of this is to say that teenagers must come to realize that they are an experimental generation– No other generation has grown up using these social technologies, and the consequences of these technologies are poorly known.

Pierce, T. (2009). Social anxiety and technology: Face-to-face communication versus technological communication among teens. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 1367-1372.

How and Why Students Use Instant Messaging

By Guest Author Carolyn Borsch

Ding: You have 12 billion messages. Well, maybe not, but that’s how many instant messages (IMs) get sent each day, worldwide, among 510 million users.

Quan-Haase examined a wide-range of studies involving North American college and middle/high school students regarding their instant messaging habits, with whom they use IM to communicate, and the effects of IM on their social and academic life. Quan-Haase made the following baseline observations:

  • High use abounds across the board.
  • Speed, availability of information, and support for multiple conversations and multitasking attract students to this form of communication.
  • IM is used to form and maintain communities and social ties, minimizes the gap felt between long distance communicators (like friends back home), and increase closeness- sense of psychological connection between two people.
  • IM is informal, and convenient to send messages not phone call worthy.
  • Certain features help maintain and promote students’ identity.
  • IM is used to stay in touch with classmates, friends, family members, and to meet new people. However, it is used more frequently to talk with friends on campus than friends back home.
  • In-person meetings are still important, even though they take place less often.
  • There is an increase in the use of IM by faculty and staff at universities. Professors hold virtual office hours and use IM to connect students with libraries for reference help.

On the plus side, IM provides a new environment for collaboration with peers, professors, librarians, technicians, and other experts. It also correlates with greater numbers of social ties (something that more recent studies continue to indicate). However, possible negative effects include 1) the diminished quality of a student’s writing- very few professors actually think that writing quality has declined since the introduction of the internet, 2)  multitasking leading to less attention on homework and studying, interfering with a student’s focus, and 3) students find it difficult to ignore an IM.

Capturing and measuring IM use can be difficult, as many different levels of engagement exist.  Quan-Haase suggests measuring IM use by initially measuring overall time logged in, measuring time spent screening IM users, time spent reading/writing IM messages, time spent checking the IM buddy list, and time spent on administrative tasks like updating profile information.

Quan-Haase, A. (2008). Instant Messaging on campus: Use and integration in university students’ everyday communication. The Information Society, 24, 105-115.

How adolescents use fast-paced communication to form relationships

By Guest Author Katie Weltner

From Marc_Smith's photostream via Flickr

Technology affects children at increasingly younger ages, and I have often wondered at how immediate and constant interaction alters the formation and maintenance of friendships, and how their friendships will differ from the older, more traditional (re: face-to-face) way of communicating.

Three Indiana University professors studied 40 seventh grade students (ages 11-13) to see if the students created more, but weaker relationships, and to learn the extent that technological communication was valuable for less social students. With the abundance of online friendship networks, it seems plausible that many students would communicate more often with less-close friends, yet this data indicates otherwise.

They write that the number of relationships students identified as “close” showed “no significant difference in relational intensity” as with the number of friends with whom the students communicated through socially interactive technologies (SITs), meaning the students did not have more friends online than offline. However, the study also found that the 10% of students who said they had “few” or “no” close friends used SITs to communicate with acquaintances, as opposed to close friends. This divergence can possibly be explained through an understanding that the majority of students hold “in-depth” conversations, presumably with closer friends, in person or on the telephone. Additionally, with friends identified as “close”, many students only used SITs as basic maintenance and making plans.

Ultimately, all relationships differ. Some students with strong friendships rarely communicate with SITs, while others often do, and the students used “different SITs with different friends.” One aspect of this is that many of these students only had access to one SIT, while others had access to none, which would alter the form of communication with both players in the friendship. In addition, some relationships simply may be stronger through certain modes of communication than others.

Since 2006 when this article was published,  the usage of IMing has increased. What has not possibly changed? In this article nearly all communication through SITs was between those the students who had met before, and that the students were not using the internet to develop new friendships, a trend I hope will continue.

One of the interesting things to note about the technological world is the abundance of accessible information. Websites such as Facebook allow friends, acquaintances and complete strangers to see equal amounts of information about the user. Acquaintances can suddenly learn a surprising deal about someone they just met, and can instantly judge whether or not to pursue the relationship. This instantaneous selection process can affect the way children learn to deal with bad situations and relationships in their lives. For those primarily developed before the rush of technological communication, it is important to note how a slightly younger generation will relate to those around them throughout their entire lives.

Bryant, J., Sanders-Jackson, A., & Smallwood, A. (2006). IMing, text messaging, and adolescent social networks. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 577-592.