5 Takeaways From CNN’s Study on 13-Year-Olds

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CNN just aired a documentary on #Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens. The show revealed findings of a study of more than 200 eighth graders and their use of social media. After reviewing more than 150,000 social media posts collected from the students’ social media sites, the study revealed these findings:

1. Teens are on smartphones and tablets constantly.

It’s not unusual for teens to check their devices more than 100 times a day. Whether at school, home, or at an afterschool activity, social media is a constant companion and source of instant access to the online lives of their friends and peers.

2. Social media is a source of anxiety for many teens.

Rather than being on social media to share good things that were going on in their lives, the majority of those in the study said they were checking their social media sites to make sure no one was saying bad things about them and to check their status. Were their posts getting “likes”? Are their friends doing things without them? Are people saying bad things about them?

3. Rather than posting, many teens are lurking.

About 1/3 of those in the study said they spend a large portion of their time studying their friends’ and peers’ social media sites to figure out where they stand in the social pecking order. They look to see who is in and who is out, whose popularity in growing and whose is waning. On the CNN show, many of the teens said one bad post or picture could ruin a person’s reputation.

4. Social media use can be addicting.

The parents and the 13-year-olds on the show all agreed the use of social media is addicting. Before taping the show, the parents were asked to take their children’s phones away. One girl was shown sobbing. A couple of them said they would rather go without food for a week or be grounded than to have their phones taken away.

5. Parents who pay attention to their teens’ online lives erase the negative effects of social media.

Ninety-four percent of parents in the study underestimated the impact that social media was having on their children’s well being. Those parents who were actively engaged in their teens’ online lives were able to help their teens navigate the pluses and minuses of their social media use. When teens knew their parents were monitoring what they were doing, they were far less likely to engage in bullying or sexting or other inappropriate behaviors that are all too common in the social media lives of 13-year-olds.

One other comment from the show stood out. For this generation, their face-to-face lives are the same as their social media lives. There is no distinction.

Beyond the negatives, the study found that teens use social media to show support for one another, to encourage peers when they were going through personal struggles, and to defend one another from people who were saying negative things about their friends.

Questions for Parents and Churches:

1. How are you helping the children and youth in your church engage in face-to-face conversations away from social media?

2. How are you paying attention to the impact of social media on your children or youth?

3. What alternatives to social media do you offer? When do you have children and youth take a break? When do children and youth do an activity without social media?

4.  As an adult, how many of these things are true for you as well? Do you lurk?  Are you constantly comparing your friend’s posting with your real life?  Are you checking your phone over 100 time a day?  Does too much consumption of social media make your anxious?

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age. Go to www.iKidsgen.com for study guides for youth groups and parents.

Digital Life – A Youth Group Study Now Available

This week over 4,000 youth from United Methodist Churches around the country will be gathering for Youth 2015 in Orlando. As part of the follow-up to presentations I will be making at the event, today I am releasing a free PDF that examines four critical issues facing today’s youth.  Digital Life – a Youth Group Study is designed for use by youth groups and it also can be used as a resource for small groups, for parent groups, and as an outline for a sermon series.

Here are the four key issues covered in this material:

Lesson One: Screen In
Today’s world is filled with screens. Whether at the store, school, home, in a restaurant, car, or even church, the screens on smartphones, tablets, computers, and TV monitors provide a constant stream of images and sounds designed to capture our attention. This lesson is designed to help youth explore how they use digital media and to discover how this affects the way they live on a daily basis.

Lesson Two: Face-to-Face
As youth spend more time on their techgear (smartphones, computers, and tablets), they spend less time in face-to-face conversations. While texting, emails, and messaging may be convenient, when it comes to serious matters, nothing is better than face-to-face interactions where we learn how to read and interpret non-verbal cues, a skill that is essential for developing ongoing, healthy relationships. This lesson explores the importance of face-to-face conversations.

Lesson Three: Branded
Through the use of digital technology, companies make a profound impact on the lives of teenagers. They now have the ability to track individuals through sophisticated online monitoring. Companies can now send ads and messages tailored to specific individuals. This lesson explores how youth experience and understand brands.

Lesson Four: Distracted
One of the most dangerous intersections in the world of digital technology is the car. This lesson explores the dangers of texting and driving as a way to explore the larger issue of how youth and adults live in a distracted state of being. The one myth to explode is the idea that multitasking is a good way to get things done. In the digital age, learning how to focus on one thing at a time is an important skill for mental, physical, and spiritual development.

Additional materials, including a presentation and handouts are also available for your use.

Use the link above (iKids Group Studies/Downloads) or click here to go to these materials.

Who is Tending to the Minds of Our Boys?

”An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

Proverbs 18:15

As I entered the local Barnes & Noble bookstore the other day I was greeted by a beautiful table covered with books with and an inspirational sign that said, “Inspiring Stories for Unstoppable Girls.”   Try as I might, I could not find a similar display for boys.

I first encountered this bias in our publishing and book world when my daughter, who is now in her twenties, got her first American Girl book back in the late 1990s.   Started by the Pleasant Company, American Girl books tell the stories of characters like Kirsten Larson, born in 1854, a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory, and Josefina Montoya, a young Mexican girl living in New Mexico who was born in 1824.  The books come in a set of six books with colorful pictures, whose historical fiction is designed for 8-to-11 year-old girls. But the books are just the start. Girls can also buy dolls based on the books as well as furniture, clothes, and accessories. Bought by Mattel in 1998, the brand has expanded to include American Girl Stores, where girls can buy the books, dolls, and costumes as well as dine with their dolls in a specially themed restaurant.

As you might expect, American Girl has become a very profitable enterprise and has done a great job introducing girls to the world of books as a fun and lively experience, especially for those whose parents or grandparents can foot the bill for the dolls that cost over $100.00 each.

But you will not find an American Boy series of books or stores that help capture the imagination of boys. Somehow because they are boys, they are supposed to figure this out on their own without the encouragement of the book world. My son who is in his young teens has found some series to be interesting like the Percy Jackson books and 39 Clues. But other than that, few books capture his attention.

He and his friends would much rather play video games and talk about the characters in the games than discuss anything they would find in a book. It seems as a culture we have ceded the minds of our boys and young men to the influence of the creators of video games, whose most popular titles such as Call to Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Bloodborne invite them into a world of violence and mayhem.

As parents, we see an ongoing battle for our boys’ minds. How do we get them to read when the publishing market is all too content to cater to girls? How do we balance boys’ desire to play video games, whose online interactive features encourage them to connect with one another, with the importance of reading for the development of their imaginations and learning to focus? Why is it when I Google “Books for Girls,” I find sites that talk about empowering girls, but when I Google “Books for Boys” I find sites that merely recommend good books or “great” books?

I don’t have a ready answer for this except to say that our boys need to be empowered as well. They need to feel they will be able to offer something positive to the world in the future. Just like today’s iKids girls, our iKids boys need to be encouraged to read during the most important period of brain development a human ever goes through, from ages eight to fifteen, when the brain develops its ability to think, to make decisions, to discern what is good and evil, to value relationships, and to make choices about faith and belief.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age.  For more info go to http://iKidsgen.com