Is the Internet a Waste of Time for Teens?

Posted on November 22, 2008 at 8:00 am

Parents often fear that their kids are wasting their time clicking around the web. But a new study on teen use of online media commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation found that “America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online – often in ways adults do not understand or value.”
image_teens_computer.jpgThe most extensive U.S. study on teens and their use of digital media was conducted over a three-year period by 28 researchers and collaborators at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley. They interviewed over 800 young people and their parents, both one-on-one and in focus groups; spent over 5000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and other networked communities; and conducted diary studies to document how, and to what end, young people engage with digital media.
“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”
The study found that there were two primary categories of online activity, “friendship-driven” and “interest-driven.” “While friendship-driven participation centered on ‘hanging out’ with existing friends, interest-driven participation involved accessing online information and communities that may not be present in the local peer group….Youth are navigating complex social and technical worlds by participating online.” But, the study concluded, they are not taking full advantage of opportunities to go beyond their known social connections to reach out to new contacts and educational opportunities.
I agree that these skills are important. But I worry that we are ignoring some other skills children and teens also need. No matter how wired we become, in-person social interaction (call it analog if you must), from polite conversation to thank-you notes, will always be indispensable skills, as will research that can only be conducted off-line and the ability to write complete and grammatical sentences. The online world is an important one, but so is RL.
Thanks to my dad (and BFF), Newton Minow, for sharing this study with me.

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Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps Teenagers Understanding Media and Pop Culture

4 Replies to “Is the Internet a Waste of Time for Teens?”

  1. Using internet is a considerable issue because if the teens are using it for improving knowledge of their academics, and finding books, music and etc then it would be fine, other than that spending more time on internet to chat and to watch movies then it is considerable thing. Being a responsible parent, one must explain the consequences about the effects of using more internet in detailed. Parenting today’s teens is not the easiest things for parents, find more teens related information by sharing views and giving your views on troubled teens.
    http://www.troubledteensguide.com/discuss-teens-problems.php

  2. No, the internet is not a waste of time for teens – It’s (largely) a waste of time for everyone, particularly those who use it primarily for socializing or entertainment, i.e. internet “addicts.”
    The waste is apparent to most people old enough to remember how much happier, more productive, and physically active they were before the internet.
    Try disconnecting from the net and email for a while, and see if life doesn’t take a swing upward.

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