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6 Concerns About Kids and Technology: What the Research Shows (Podcast)

August 26, 2016

Kids these days are really wrapped up in social media. Ninety percent of young people have access to a mobile phone; on average, kids send upwards of 60 texts a day. Parents don’t always understand technology, so understandably, they have concerns. Sanford Professor Candice Odgers is leading a team that’s using mobile phones to get a glimpse into kids’ daily lives. Odgers discussed her research with Sanford's Dean Kelly Brownell in the latest episode of the podcast Policy 360.

Concern #1: Stranger Danger

Odgers says stranger danger is a common worry among parents, but there’s not much reason for concern.

“When we start to look at who kids are interacting with, their online and their offline networks look very similar, in fact, almost identical,” she says, adding that kids have few interactions with strangers online.

Concern #2: Sharing of Inappropriate Content

Odgers says this is something kids aren’t always well-informed about.

“Kids are sharing a lot of information about themselves and other people and sometimes not fully understanding the consequences,” she says. “You can be charged, for example, in trafficking child pornography if you forward on an explicit picture of someone you know.”

Concern #3: Cyberbullying

Odgers says cyberbullying does happen, but it’s not necessarily social media’s fault.

“What we do find when we look at the cyberbullying literature is that there’s a tremendous amount of overlap,” she says. “So kids who are victimized offline, in the real world, [they] are also the ones that are marked or that are victimized online.”

Concern #4: Stifled Social Development

Odgers says the jury’s still out on this one. It’s not clear social media have a negative effect on social relationships; in fact, Odgers was surprised at the positive effects social media usage can bring to a child's life.

“Kids who are socially skilled early on tend to have more online communication, and that in turn predicts a better quality relationship later on.” And when it comes to parent-child relationships, Odgers says, if the relationship is healthy offline, using social media tends to strengthen the relationship.

Concern #5: Decreased Productivity

Odgers and her team flagged multitasking as a valid area of concern.

“Our performance is really degraded when we try to multitask, and that’s essentially what kids are doing [when using social media],” she says. But kids aren’t the only offenders here -- adults can be just as guilty when it comes to something like texting and driving.

Concern #6: Sleep

Odgers says there’s really compelling evidence to move any and all devices out of kids’ bedrooms at night. When it comes to viewing something on a screen instead of on paper, “there’s disruption in the circadian rhythm, and there’s a disruption in sleep in terms of amount time in deep sleep.”

And simply having the devices in the bedroom can decrease total sleep.

“When you log the time they start sending the majority of their text messages, it’s late at night,” she says. “And about 25 percent of mobile phone owners sleep with their phone under their pillow, so not to miss a text or a message at night.”

The Bottom Line?

Kids aren’t becoming completely different people online, Odgers says. "It’s really just a medium through which they express their identities, they communicate with their friends and engage in the tasks of daily life.”

For more conversations like this, subscribe to Policy 360 with Kelly Brownell.

Explore Sanford's other podcast, Ways & Means, hosted by journalist Emily Hanford.