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TV, Texting Interfering With Parent-Child Talks?

Parents Say It's Difficult to Broach Serious Subjects When Their Teens Are Distracted by TV, Cell Phones, Social Networking Sites

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 10, 2010 -- Parents whose teenagers spend a lot of time watching TV or using computers are worried that their youngsters' tube and digital time may interfere with important parent-child conversations, new research indicates.

Partnership for a Drug-Free America cites a survey that finds that 38% of parents are concerned that too much TV viewing by their children may make it harder to talk to them, 37% fret that their teens' time on computers may interfere with communication, and 33% say video games get in the way of serious conversations.

The parents say such activities make it harder for them to talk to their teens about alcohol and drug use and other risky behaviors.

The survey of more than 1,200 parents also indicates that more than 25% are worried about newer forms of media. For example:

  • 27% of parents fretted that cell phone texting might interfere with good communication.
  • 25% pointed to Facebook as a problem.
  • 19% said Twitter hinders effective communication.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America campaign cites a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 2,000 teens released earlier this year that found that young people 8-18 years old spend nearly eight hours a day, or 53 hours weekly, "consuming" entertainment media.

That research also indicated that the more time teens spend on TV or other media, the less happy they tend to be, and the more their grades tend to suffer.

It found that:

  • 47% of heavy media users reported they usually got fair to poor grades, C's or lower.
  • 23% of light media users indicated to surveyors they earned fair to poor grades.

Media Consumption Among Teens

The Kaiser survey notes that there has been a drastic increase in media consumption among teens and that it's been driven in large part by easy access to mobile devices such as cell phones and iPod media players.

Among teens and kids, cell phone ownership has increased from 39% in 2004 to 66% in 2009. Ownership of iPods jumped from 18% to 76% over the same time period. About 20% of children's media consumption comes from mobile devices, and as youths get older, they use such equipment even more.

"These new findings present a unique opportunity for parents to play a more active role in what their kids are watching, monitor how they are spending their time online, and remain aware of the impact all of this media consumption is having on their impressionable teens," says Steve Pasierb, president of Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "We know that kids today are bombarded with pro-drug and drinking messages via everything from song lyrics, movies, and video games to social networking sites."

He says in a news release that videos of children abusing cough medicine and other common household products in an attempt to get high are easily accessible online, making it more important than ever for parents to break through the new media cacophony to make their voices heard.

Partnership for a Drug-Free American says parents should talk often with their kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol use, and the organization has created a web site, TimeToTalk.org, offering parents a new way to start a dialogue with youngsters about avoiding risky behaviors.

The organization says parents can use email, cell phones, and even texting to begin such conversations with teens.

Talking With Your Teen

The partnership has created a free, downloadable guide, called "Time to Text," on its TimeToTalk.org web site that offers parents tips on how to text, and offers examples of different messages to send to teens.

"Some parents may still feel apprehensive about embracing media and technology as a way of communicating with their children, but in today's world, it is vital that they connect with their kids in any way possible," Pasierb says in a news release. "It is important that we help bridge the technology gap between parents and 'Generation Text.'"

The TimeToTalk.org web site also offers tips about how to encourage smart behavior in their children. These include:

  • Communicate with them about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.
  • Become media savvy enough to use social media and texting to remind young people about smart behaviors.
  • Realize that text messaging is a primary form of communication among teens, and that it is a non-confrontational means of discussing things like using alcohol and drugs and the importance of curfews.
  • Learn the lingo of texting, which involves shortening words and using acronyms, such as LOL, which means laugh out loud. Drop vowels and learn their texting language, such as NP, which means no problem, and 143, which translates to "I love you."
  • Don't use all capital letters when you're texting unless you're angry -- because caps suggest you're yelling.

SOURCES: News release, Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

timetotalk.org.

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