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Are texting and Facebook worse for teens than TV?
Neal, who admits to watching a lot of “Gilligan’s Island” growing up, added: “We had our minds numbed by TV, and maybe they’re looking at useless things on the Internet or YouTube, but I also think they’re developing a lot of skills through this technology that we could never comprehend. For my daughter, when she is home, she does have everything going _ the TV, the computer, communicating with friends, and doing the homework at the same time.”
He admits, though, that there are some frightening aspects to the dependence today’s teenagers have on technology. “They are so emotionally connected to being tied in with their friends 24 hours a day, if they get a text, they feel obligated to respond in seconds,” he said. He recalled a group of girls showing up for a birthday party at a restaurant, and “everyone of them had their head down, texting.”
The explosion in teen screen time is well-documented. A recent Associated Press-mtvU poll found that one-third of college students use computers, cell phones or gaming consoles for six or more hours daily. A Kaiser Family Foundation study published in January found that total media use among 8- to 18-year-olds, including TV, music, computers, video games, print and movies has increased from six hours, 21 minutes daily in 2004 to seven hours, 38 minutes in 2009.
“Try waking a teenager in the morning and the odds are good that you’ll find a cell phone tucked under their pillow,” the Kaiser report said.
The Kaiser study also found that the more time kids spend with media, the lower their grades and levels of personal contentment are.
Gentile said the impact of screen time on school work can be mitigated by what he calls “protective factors.” Those might include good teachers and a high-performing school, love of reading, coming from a family where education is valued, and exposure to experiences that are culturally and intellectually enriching. “If you had all these protective factors,” said Gentile, “then that one little risk factor (screen time), who cares?”
He added that surprisingly, the amount of time kids spend watching TV has not declined precipitously with the popularity of computers and gaming, but “they don’t pay nearly the attention (to TV) that they used to.” The TV might be on, but “they’re also instant-messaging, they’re on Facebook, they’re texting.”
One thing parents should worry about, Gentile said, is the way electronic devices encourage multitasking.
“Multitasking is not really good for anyone,” he said. “Your reflexes speed up, you’re quicker to look over your shoulder and notice little noises or lights. This is not what they need when they get to the classroom and you’re supposed to ignore the kid next to you. Scanning to see when the next message comes, this may not be good for kids. The more distractions you have, the worse your performance is.” Getting kids to turn off their phones, iPods, and computers in order to concentrate on homework and reading, he said, “I think that’s a fight worth having.”
Bottom line: Never mind that your kid is spending two hours on Facebook each night. As long as they do their homework without texting in between math problems, it’s probably no better or worse than the hours you spent watching “Star Trek.”
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