By Pretty Shongwe | Urban Agenda
Will sat at his computer desk, head down and eyes locked on the bright screen of his smartphone. The 23-year-old, who declined to give his last name, sat alone in the college computer lab, but he was not lonely, because he was connected to a social media community.
Will said he enjoys Snapchat because it is an “easy way to communicate with friends,” while Google Chrome satisfies his curiosity because he can look up anything on the Internet.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of teenagers admit they go online daily; 24 percent said they are online constantly. Some experts and millennials agree that although an increasing number of young people are using social media rather than interacting in person, they are not disconnected and building social relationships.
“I believe that teenagers are becoming more social — in new ways — as they become more engaged on social media,” said Elizabeth Larsen, a sociology professor at California University of Pennsylvania.
AOL Instant Messenger and SixDegrees.com were early social media chatting sites and only the beginning of a whole new virtual world that would attract generations to come. Today, people use various social media platforms, including apps, which are popular because they can be downloaded on any type of handheld device.
Jess Paterchak, 19, said she got her first cell phone at the age of 11 but would have preferred to receive it at an older age.
Several students said they got their first cell phones at 14 and agreed that was a reasonable age.
Emily Sweitzer, a sociology professor at California University of Pennsylvania, believes that seventh-graders are old enough to have their own cell phones.
“If I was perfectly honest, I would say 13 or 14, because at that age, they are more independent, and (cell phones) can be used as a safety protection,” she said.
She added that teens at that age are mature enough to know the consequences of abusing their privileges. But she said that all teenagers should be told about the dangers of having a personal cell phone.
According to a recent report conducted by TechCrunch, an online organization that reports on technology, the average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.
Emely Juzman, 21, said that while hanging out with friends, she spends a good percentage of her time on her phone using social media.
“It is addicting, but I would be able to stop,” she said.
Paterchak said she spends an hour day on social media, which is low compared to most millennials. According to a November report by CNN, teens spend a “mind boggling” nine hours on social media a day.
“It is beneficial to take a balanced approach to the use of social media in your life,” Larsen said. “I have been concerned (about the overuse of media) since the 1980s, when I began to see people crowding in on each other to film a baptism or school play rather than just enjoying the moment.”
Sweitzer used the chairs in the story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” to describe the amount of time spent on social media. It can’t be too hard, too soft, but just right.
“There has to be a happy medium,” she said.
Will said that he tries to keep aware of how much he is on his phone while around his friends. When his friends are mainly on their phones around him, “for the lack of better words, I feel ignored,” he said.
When asked whether they prefer to text or call their family and friends, texting was preferred over calling by several students.
Chris Frank, 21, would rather call his friends over texting because he said there is a real connection. Paterchak, on the other hand, said she would only call someone if the situation were urgent.
“There is still ambiguity when reading a text and perhaps there is misinterpretation,” said Beverly Ross, another sociology professor at California University of Pennsylvania, “As far as teens go, social media has the ability to take impulsive and attention-seeking behavior and leave permanent negative associations, (such as) sexting for one.”
Sweitzer said basic conversations,“consciously making oneself speak to or with others,” are important because excessive use of social media causes youths to develop poor personal and social skills.
“When teens enter the workforce, they have a difficult time because of (their) social skills,” Sweitzer said.
The experts all agree that many teenagers are missing out on precious moments because their eyes are glued to the screen of their phones.
“(Social media) does this for everyone, but specifically young people. As a professor, even though I ask that they not use their phones during class, it is a lost cause. The moment that they are missing is my message,” Ross said.
Larsen said people enjoy the advantages of social media and new ways of staying connected. “But I do worry a bit that we may be losing something of value.”