“Texting Preferred Over In-PersonTime”…REALLY???

Delaney Ruston, MD – In March 2018, Common Sense Media conducted a survey, called Social Media, Social Life, of 1,141 teens. One of the findings in the survey resulted in the following headlines in news outlets:  “Teens Are Over Face-to-Face Communication, Study Says,” and “More Teens Addicted to Social Media, Prefer Texting to Talking,” and  “Teens Would Rather Text and Chat Online With Their Friends Than Hang Out in Real Life, Study Says.”

For years pre and post this survey, I have been asking kids and teens the following, “If you had a totally free Saturday, what would you choose — being at home communicating with friends over social media, or being with your friends in-person?” Every single time I get the same response: “being with my friends in-person.”

So why this survey finding? I firmly believe helping our kids become critical thinkers when evaluating research findings is key. So let’s analyze this survey with them — and this survey will surely be a topic to which they can relate. 

The survey question that sparked all the headlines was the following: 

“Which of the following is your favorite way to communicate with your friends?” And it listed in-person as an option and several other options. 

If you go to the actual survey, starting on page 49 of the report, you will find that before the question on communication, teens were asked nine questions in a row about social media, such as:  “Have you ever used social media, such as Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook?  “Which social media do you use the most?” and  “How often do you send or receive texts?”

After nine such questions, respondents landed on the question regarding their favorite way to communicate with their friends.  Here were their answers:

  • In-person (32%)
  • Texting (35%)
  • Talk on phone (5%)
  • Through social media (16%)
  • Video chat (10%)
  • Other (2%)

My strong hypothesis is that many of the respondents’ mindset when they got to that question was that of  “information exchange” as opposed to truly preferring things like texting over in-person time. 

What do your kids think about the survey results?  How do they feel about the way the headlines got spun?

There are several reasons I’m advocating for having such a discussion. 

First of all, it is paramount that we not let myths become “facts.” The last thing we want is for our society, post-COVID, to take away the already limited opportunities youth have in our society to be with each other. We know from research that in-person time is highly associated with many positive findings, including emotional wellbeing. Yet, over the years, funding for things like afterschool programs and sports programs have been cut in many areas of the country. It is so disheartening to hear about yet another school losing their JV sports teams, for instance. 

Connecting youth with youth in meaningful ways is critical. In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, I have loved sharing the stories in which teens mentor tweens around social skills, including social media. I personally was so moved to see all the ways that teens were positively influencing each other. 

But then I was shocked.

I came to learn that there are so few programs in the country that connect peers together in these types of ways. Yet, such programs help both the teens leading the programs as well as the teens or- kids who are participating. It is a win-win. 

When COVID hit I started thinking deeply about the positive impact combined with the reality of the shortage. I was thinking how now, more than ever, kids will be needing support and skills when it comes to managing relationship conflicts, emotional challenges, screen time issues, and more. What if I could put together a team to create a program that trains pairs of highschoolers to lead small groups of middle schoolers in learning skills around key topics.  

That is how the idea for Boosting Bravery was born. So once again, if you have middle or high school girls in your home, or know anyone with girls, or a school where info could be posted,  click on -or share- this link!

Finally, part of the reason I was motivated to write my new book Parenting in the Screen Age comes from headlines like the ones I shared at the start of this TTT, which make kids and teens feel defensive about talking with adults about screen time. When as a society we convey messages like, “Kids these days — they just prefer social media then being with people,” youth can feel really misunderstood. This was surely true in my home. I needed to learn all sorts of ways to communicate with my kids, so they weren’t just defensive and saying things like, “You adults, you just to get it at all.”

Ideas for starting a discussion with your kids or students:

1.  “Before COVID, Which of the following was your favorite way to communicate with your friends?” 

  • In-person?
  • Talking on the phone?
  • Texting? 
  • Posting on social media? 
  • Messaging through social media, i.e. DM’ing?
  • Via video chat?
  • Other?

Then ask them this question:

“Before, COVID, if you had a totally free Saturday, what would you choose — being at home communicating with friends over social media, or being with your friends in-person?” 

2. What do you think about the survey question and results?

3. How do you feel when you see those headlines?

4. When we go into “The Big Reset,” i.e. when life resumes post-COVID, are there ways you want to make sure young people can be with friends in-person?


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