Teens technology savvy

Groups encourage youth to get active, spend less time in front of screens

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Seventeen-year-old Brittnie Durham is on the Internet every night -- "no matter what" -- instant messaging her friends.

Her parents don't mind as long as she logs off by 10 p.m.

Then, she switches to her cellular phone to text message her friends.

And, there are plenty who reply.

According to a National Public Radio, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government poll, 54 percent of teens are accessing chat rooms and instant messaging services.

"It's like the new telephone," Durham said, "except I can have six different conversations at once."

Studies report that children ages 2 to 17 spend nearly 6 1/2 hours a day in front of screens -- computer, TV and video game screens.

Chandra Maneotis, 19, is addicted to text messaging.

"I text message more than I call people," she said, pausing as her phone beeped and the message "punk" appeared.

Cellular phones aren't allowed in classrooms at Moffat County High School, but Durham said students sometimes sneak them in so they can "text" each other.

"When you can't, it makes you want to more," she said.

More than one-third of teens surveyed by Itracks use their mobile phones to text-message their friends during school, 30 percent play video games on their phones while in school, and more than one-quarter use their phones to talk to people their parents would not approve of. The survey also revealed that on average, teens spend almost as much time on their mobile phones as they spend doing physical activity.

According to the National Public Radio survey, 58 percent of teens say technology has led them to spend less time with their families and friends.

That's face time, Durham said, people are still interacting -- just in different ways.

National Institute on Media and the Family President David Walsh, Ph.D, has conducted several studies on the effect of technology on teens. His current project is "Switch," which encourages teens to switch up their level of physical activity, switch over to more fruits and vegetables and switch down hours spent in front of screens.

"Kids spend an awful lot of time doing passive activities," said Jenine Anderson, spokeswoman for the Switch project. "We want youth to watch what they do, watch what they view and what they chew."

The study's 1,100 are slowing reducing their "screen time" to less than two hours a day.

"We're trying to show there's validity in adding screen time components to the larger view of children's health," Anderson said.

Tara Dilldine, 17, estimates she spends two hours a night on the Internet, less than she used to. Now, she's more interested in text messaging.

Conversations are sometimes difficult, she said, because there are few ways to determine the tone of the conversation. Abbreviations such as "jj" for "just joking," "lol" for "laughing out loud" and letter faces -- ;) -- are tools texters use to convey sentiment.

"It just cuts straight to the chase, I guess," Dilldine said.

Dilldine's mother, Judy Kendall, is baffled at her daughter's level of Internet and cellular phone use.

"After I go to bed, she gets online either to do homework, be (in a chat room) or instant message five people at a time," she said. "I'm always trying to get her off to do other things."

Kendall isn't worried about the effect technology is having on her daughter.

"She's pretty mature," she said.

As long as she keeps her grades up, continues to be responsible and pays her own phone bill, Kendall's OK.

According to a Tele--com--munications & Information Administration survey, 78.9 percent of American households with children had computers. Dilldine would like to move into the percentage who own two computers.

She said she has to fight for Internet time with her mother and her younger sister.

She doesn't share her cell phone, but it won't be long before Dilldine's sister joins the thousands who consider cell phones a "must-have" accessory.

"She's desperate for her own cell phone," Kendall said. "I'll probably get one for her birthday."

Another computer, though, is something her daughters will have to buy themselves.

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