As you know, I like to keep my thumb on the pulse of youth culture. (Funny analogy. Does anyone really take someone’s pulse with a thumb?) This means hanging out with teenagers, but also keeping my eyes on research about youth culture and technology.
Currently there are three reports I am eagerly awaiting because of what they tell us about teens and tweens today:
1. The CDC’s YRBS report. (Insert giggle here for a report containing the initials BS)
The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services’ Center for Disease Control (CDC) issues a study once every two years called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance studying “risky” behaviors by young people today. The behaviors they study are activites like smoking, drinking, sexual activity, fighting, and other “behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and adults” and that “are established during childhood and adolescence, extend into adulthood” and “are preventable.”
This always seems to be one of the more accurate studies about how many teens are having sex (page 110 of the report), or smoking pot (you can even look at Colorado compared to other states).
I actually wrote a detailed Youth Culture Window article (Are Kids Really Having Less Sex?) about this and another CDC study back in 2011, because the media was making a big hype about “kids having less sex.” I interviewed experts from several organizations, including the Chief Program Officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in search of a rational answer.
The 2013 national, state and local YRBS results will be released in just a few weeks, on June 12, 2014, accessed here. I’m eager to see if any significant changes have occurred in the last two years.
I’m eager to see this report because it’s only a couple weeks away… but the report I’m really looking forward to is…
2. Kaiser’s Media Consumption Report
Every 5 years the Kaiser Family Foundation does an extensive study on the entertainment media consumption habits of 8-18-year-olds in America. This broad study is highly respected and quoted by almost every other medical report on the subject for the next 5 years.
It was January 2010 when the 2009 report was released (we wrote a Youth Culture Window article summarizing it), revealing young people soaking in about 7 and a half hours per day of entertainment media… and that was without phones.
You see, back in 2009, young people didn’t have smartphones—they had normal cell phones. The Kaiser report did track daily cell phone use (both talking and texting), which added up to an average of 1 hour and 35 minutes per day, but that number isn’t even included in the 7 hours and 38 minutes per day of media consumption because a cell phone technically wasn’t “entertainment media.” If you included that phone use, you’d be at over 9 hours. (By the way, that also includes multi-tasking. Kids are actually over 12 hours if you take that into account.)
The 2014 report is going to be fascinating because now ¾ of teenagers have smartphones. How much is that going to change daily media consumption? Will the total go up, or will the smartphone simply replace TV, music and other vices?
The mobile phone is really changing the way young people communicate and spend their time. That’s probably why I’m interested in this coming report…
3. The UK Department of Health Mobile Phone Study
The UK’s Department of Health has embarked on the world’s biggest study about the effect of mobile phones’ radio waves on children’s brains.
While both this study and the Kaiser study will examine how much time young people spend on these mobile devices, they each will be looking for different effects. Kaiser will be looking at mental health where the UK study will be looking at the actual physical affect these low-power radio waves, known as ‘non-ionizing radiation”, have on the brain.
I’m probably not alone in my hopes that we aren’t all looking at severe cases of brain cancer in years to come! But let’s be realistic. Young people will be completely safe. They never use the “phone” part of their smartphone. If these low power radio waves are determined to be harmful, the only cancer teenagers will get is fingertip cancer!