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Media use, face-to-face communication and social well-being among 8-to-12-year-old girls

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Tweens texting (iStock)Tweens texting (iStock)Tweens texting (iStock)

A teenager wearing earbuds while texting friends is a common sight in the United States. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the amount of time that young people ages 8 to 18 reported consuming media — more than 10 hours a day — has soared while the size of the devices and screens they use has shrunk. Much of this time is spent multitasking, such as texting while watching TV.

To what extent does being “plugged in” negatively affect a young person’s social, emotional and intellectual development? Some developmental psychologists have linked multitasking behaviors to the degradation of social and cognitive skills; others have lauded digital media as a relatively safe space where online behaviors mirror an individual’s offline development.

A 2012 study from Stanford University published in Development Psychology, ”Media Use, Face-to-Face Communication, Media Multitasking and Social Well-being Among 8-to-12-Year-Old Girls,” examined how digital media consumption and multitasking may impact social and cognitive development of ’tween girls. Media use included “video, video games, music listening … e-mailing/posting on social media sites, texting/instant messaging, and talking on phones/video chatting.” Researchers used data collected from nearly 3,5000 respondents to an online survey sponsored by Discovery Girls magazine in the summer of 2010.

Major findings include:

  • Watching videos, communicating online and media multitasking “were consistently associated with a range of negative socioemotional outcomes…. Face-to-face communication and online communication are not interchangeable.”
  • Despite increased media use by ’tween girls, “no more than 10.1% of respondents ranked online friends more positively than in-person friends for even one item. Even heavy media users tended to derive … positive feelings principally from in-person friends.”
  • Most media use had a neutral or slightly negative correlation with social well-being. In particular, watching videos was strongly associated with more negative feelings. However, “face-to-face communication was positively associated with feelings of social success [and] was consistently associated with a range of positive socioemotional outcomes.”
  • “Video use, talking on the phone, and online interactions were all strongly associated with having a greater number of friends perceived by parents as bad influences.”
  • Feelings of being judged or criticized originated from both online and in-person sources: “Approximately half of all respondents attributed their negative feelings to online friends, whereas the other half attributed their negative feelings to in-person friends.”
  • Participants reported approximately seven hours of media use and two hours of face-to-face interactions per day, and they multitasked with an average of 2.4 media items. These levels are significantly lower than those previously reported and are the result of the exclusion of boys and older youth.
  • “Cell phone ownership and having a television or computer in one’s room had little direct association with children’s socioemotional well-being.”

The researchers noted that media multitasking was found to be associated with negative outcomes: “coupled with the association of media multitasking and problems with cognitive control of attention…. The current results suggest that the growth of media multitasking should be viewed with some concern.”

Tags: youth, cognition, Facebook, Twitter, mobile tech

    Writer: | Last updated: September 13, 2012

    Citation: Pea, Roy; Nass, Clifford; et al. ”Media Use, Face-to-Face Communication, Media Multitasking and Social Well-being Among 8-to-12-Year-Old Girls,” Developmental Psychology, March 2012, Vol. 48, Issue 2, 327-336. doi: 10.1037/a0027030.

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the issue-related article in the Christian Science Monitor article "Toddlers to Tweens: Relearning How to Play."

    1. What key insights from the article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?

    Read the full study titled “Media Use, Face-to-Face Communication, Media Multitasking and Social Well-being Among 8-to-12-Year-Old Girls.”

    1. What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?