As of January 26, an assortment of Santa Barbara teenagers can no longer claim that their parents do not “get” them.
Courtesy of the school’s PTSA, as well as UCSB-affiliated lecturers Erica Biely and S. Courtney Walton, Dos Pueblos High School parents were able to acquire some much-desired information about their offspring’s most obvious obsession: social networking. Not only were the parents clued in as to why such constant interaction — via texting, Facebook, MySpace, etc. — has seemingly become an integral part of adolescence, they were also provided with the means to recognize when enough is enough.
Titled “Generation ‘M’ for Media: Effects of Media on Teens and What Parents Can Do,” the presentation first featured an eye-opening YouTube video (“Did You Know 4.0”) that replaced assumptions with statistics, revealing just how many people social media has taken captive. Most relevant, of course, were the facts pertaining to those 18 and under, 65% of which have social networking accounts.
According to Biely — a researcher associated with Health Games Research — teenagers engage in approximately seven hours per day worth of social media, a figure that jumps to nearly 11 hours per day if multitasking is factored into the equation. Why that is so alarming — besides the sheer volume of time consumed — is the fact that such devotion to social networking has been correlated to some serious consequences, including lower grades, lower levels of personal contentment, heightened risk for obesity, increased risk for smoking, and the decreased likelihood of prolonging sexual activity.
Also, added Walton — a UCSB graduate student and DPHS parent herself — social media (cell phones in particular) can not only be addictive, but can also pose serious risks to a teenager’s future, both legally and physically. For example, Walton explained, it has been found that approximately half of all teenagers use their cell phones while driving, an activity that is not only illegal, but can prove fatal. Equally troubling are the facts regarding “sexting.” Teenagers who make public sexually explicit photographs of themselves, whether via texting or the Internet, need to know that such actions are technically classified as child pornography (consensual or not), and can result not only in jail time, but also a lifelong “sex offender” label. According to Walton’s findings, approximately 15% of teenagers engage in sexting, and numerous teenagers have been caught, found guilty, and have been left to deal with the consequences.
Not all news was bad news, however, as the lecturers also focused on the positives social media has to offer. Dubbing social media a “new tool for ordinary living,” Walton encouraged parents to view their teenagers’ behavior as simply a new form of self expression. Biely echoed that sentiment, calling social networking “convenient” and a great way to “stay connected.”
Equal parts frightening and enlightening, the presentation strived to present the parents with a means of connecting with their teenagers’ needs for constant connection. Despite the handful of parents in attendance who admitted to having Facebook accounts and knowing the difference between ‘LOL’ and ‘lmao,’ Biely and Walton encouraged them to delve deeper, passing out a parent-student contract on social media use. “Familiarize yourself,” Biely advised.
Receptive to the recommendations was PTSA president, Denice Fellows. “We [as parents] always want to be better educated,” she said. Equally realistic was one father who wants his children — prior to doing anything beyond the realm of reason — to ask themselves, “What’s it going to look like in the paper?”