Teenagers in 2016 have never known a world without the internet, smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media channels that anyone over the age of 20 is too old to understand. But what is this technology-driven world doing to the next generation?
One 16-year-old told the Guardian that she’d rather give up a kidney than her phone. A 14-year-old told the newspaper that he spends an hour to 90 minutes “hanging out with his 450-odd Facebook friends”.
Teacher Paul Barnwell wrote on The Atlantic about how his junior English class don’t know how to have a conversation. “Several students looked perplexed,” he says of when he explained a project that would see them practicing their conversational skills. “Others fidgeted in their seats, waiting for me to stop watching the class so they could return to their phones. Finally, one student raised his hand. ‘How is this going to work?’ he asked.”
He set them the task of creating podcasts in small groups, based on research that they had completed on education issues; they were to be assessed on their ability to speak about the issues in real time.
“Even with plenty of practice, the task proved daunting to students,” Barnwell says. “I watched trial runs of their podcasts frequently fall silent. Unless the student facilitator asked a question, most kids were unable to converse effectively. Instead of chiming in or following up on comments, they conducted rigid interviews. They shuffled papers and looked down at their hands. Some even reached for their phones—an automatic impulse and the last thing they should be doing.”
Barnwell’s experience perhaps shouldn’t be as shocking as it is when you unpack the statistics behind young people and the way that they use the internet. According to research from the Pew Research Center, 57 per cent of teenagers have met a new friend online – and only 20 per cent of those have gone on to meet their new friend in person.
While obviously internet safety rules – that will have been drilled into them by parents and teachers alike – come into play here, a staggering 44 per cent of all teenagers have friendships that live 100 per cent online.
But even looking at the ways in which teenagers communicate with their ‘real-life’ friends will have an impact on their ability to hold a conversation. Just 25 per cent say that they spend time with their friends outside of school every day, and only 19 per cent speak with their friends on the phone every day. However, 55 per cent say that they text their friends every day and 27 per cent say that they use instant messaging to communicate with their friends daily.
Interestingly, boys may be having more spoken conversations than girls, based on this study. This is because of their interest in gaming. 51 per cent of teenage boys say that they play video games with their friends in the same room at least once a week, compared to just 20 per cent of girls. Additionally, boys have a much bigger interest in communicating via online gaming than girls, with two thirds of boys saying that they do so at least once a week, compared to just 18 per cent of girls. Although, of course, an argument could be made as to the quality of the content of such conversations.