BY LINDA CHIARA
How are teens using the internet? What sites do they visit and what else do they do online. The answers may surprise and enlighten you. Our writer interviewed parents, computer teachers and teens to get the answers.
Every six months, a new wave of users, the size of the total population of the United Kingdom, sign up for the very first time to the Internet. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that a vast majority of Internet usage is done by teens.
Most teens are aware of what is and is not acceptable when using the Internet. They’re well-versed on the warnings about not giving out names, addresses, etc., when entering the cyberworld.
Yet many parents wonder about the sites their teens visit. Where are our children going and what are they doing on the Net? What sites are the most popular and why? How do most teens use this startling, new technology?
Internet use is as varied as the teens who use it. Surprisingly, however, is how little of it is used for homework. While it’s true doing research through the web is easier than going through encyclopedias, all in all, the use of the computer for homework is minimal compared to the time spent using it for fun things.
Mr. Waring, a high school computer teacher, says that when left on their own, unsupervised, the three most popular word searches by teens are sex, sports, and cars. However, many parents have either blocked pornography from their computer or they don’t leave teens unsupervised for any length of time. More often than not, the computer is placed in the living room or family room, where parents and siblings are around during computer time.
None of the teens I interviewed enjoyed logging onto random chat rooms. Each one told me they’d each tried it once, but had discovered that sharing information and thoughts to strangers wasn’t anywhere near as fun and interesting as communicating with friends. And even though chat rooms are specific, meaning that a chat room is dedicated to a particular subject, such as those for Star Trek fans, Backstreet Boys admirers, or football fanatics, it’s difficult for these teens to feel comfortable when entering into an ongoing conversation. The overall consensus was it was a waste of valuable and sometimes, limited computer time. Since there is a way, however, to create a private chat room just for friends, that’s what these teens like to do. In fact, it appears to be one of the most popular uses for the computer.
Not surprisingly, there’s a noticeable gender difference in the way teens view the Internet. Girls today use the Net like girls of the previous generation used the telephone. Within minutes of returning home from school, they log on to discuss everything from boys to teachers to movies with their friends.
Colby, age 14, says she spends about 90 minutes a day, mostly “talking” with her friends using AOL’s instant messenger. Both Jen and Lauren agree. They say it’s not unusual for them to spend about an hour or two on line daily. If no one is available for instant messenger, they’ll email their friends instead. On the other hand, Diane, age 15, says, “I mostly e-mail, because my cousins live so far away, but I also visit lots of cool sites about astrology, fashion and make-up.” One of the most popular sites to visit for both genders is www.MTV.com, where teens can find out where their favorite singers will be performing or watch video clips of previous performances.
Boys, on the other hand, usually log on for less time overall, but do a greater variety of things on the Net. They email, but not with the same frequency as girls. And rather than using the private chat rooms, they prefer to spend their computer time looking up anything that has to do with sports or music. Lee, age 15, states that a favorite site is http://espn.go.com/, which always has the latest scores and information on sports figures and www.wwf.com/ which covers the World Wrestling Federation. However, just about any site relating to sports, including football, skateboarding, baseball, karate, basketball, wrestling, boxing, and hockey is popular.
Many boys have also spent countless hours creating their own websites on Homestead, which is a free service. These websites are dedicated to a variety of subjects, although the most popular seems to be football. However, several teens had also created websites on wrestling, karate, and even Korn, the music group. The sites are extremely professional looking, because the teens are able to copy and paste photos from other free sites. Some even scan photos of their own.
Ken, age 16, says he’ll look up just about anything on the Net, just for the fun of it. If a topic interests him, he’ll turn on the computer and enter a key word in the search engine. He’s found websites for everything from the Navy to the Department of Motor Vehicles. He’s also applied for jobs online for local area stores. Once the company looks over his application, they contact him via email and set up a face-to-face interview.
Personal computers and the Internet have enriched the lives of many, both young and old. Unlimited knowledge is at our fingertips and communication with friends and family is just a click away. With time, the Internet will become a more vital component to our lives than the telephone and television combined. Our teens are fearless in the face of this amazing technology and are fortunate to have access to a world that few dreamed of a generation ago.#