July 25, 2013

MTV study finds young millenials seek more social media privacy

Teens 14-17 are slimming down their social networks and seeking out more private environments than Facebook to share, whether via Snapchat or locked Twitter and Instagram feeds.

'Facebook is totally dying," said Katie Johnson, 14, a McClatchy High School freshman. "It's mostly just adults now," she said.

Johnson hardly ever checks Facebook, and doesn't get a lot of text messages.

"I usually only text my mom," said Johnson, who used to text a lot. Her favorite way to contact friends now? Instagram and Snapchat.

Longing to appeal to 14-to-17-year-olds, MTV recently conducted a nationwide marketing study to uncover their fast-evolving technology habits.

The results were surprising: Teens 14-17 are slimming down their social networks and seeking out more private environments than Facebook to share, whether via Snapchat or locked Twitter and Instagram feeds.

MTV found that teens in this age group – so-called young millennials – are also "taking time to disconnect, de-stress, de-stimulate and control inputs."

Individuals in that age group "increasingly 'monotask,' " according to an MTV news release.

Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and expert on the psychology of technology use, said he was intrigued but not completely convinced by all of the study's findings.

MTV claimed that 82 percent of young millennials monotask when stressed. Rosen, however, observed the opposite phenomenon in his research.

Rosen's team went into homes of middle school, high school and college-age students and observed them working on "something important" – their choice – for 15 minutes.

They found that on average, subjects could accomplish only three minutes of studying before being distracted and switching tasks, even though they knew they were being observed. The major culprits? Social media and texting.

Rosen's team also recorded GPAs and found some disturbing trends. Those who used social media more, as well as those who preferred to task-switch – Rosen dislikes the phrase "multitasking" – were worse students.

Checking Facebook just once during the 15-minute experiment resulted in a direct correlation with a lower GPA.

"It doesn't mean Facebook is making them stupid," said Rosen. "It's because they are on it all the time. They check every 15 minutes or less. It holds a very powerful draw."

Rosen explained that the strong desire to check Facebook, other social media and text messages is associated with the brain's release of GABA, epinephrine, serotonin and dopamine – the same chemicals associated with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The brain triggers a drive to check technological inputs constantly to reduce buildup of these chemicals. If there is no release, then anxiety increases, said Rosen.

In another study, Rosen looked at the anxiety levels of college students who had to go without their cellphones. The phones of one group were confiscated, and another group was told to put their phones face down underneath their desk.

At first, anxiety levels increased all around. After 20 minutes, however, anxiety levels tapered off among the group that kept their phones. But among the confiscated group? Their anxiety levels skyrocketed.

"Adults think of technology as a tool. Kids don't think of technology as a tool. Just like we don't think about air – it's something we use every day and we take for granted – they think of it as air, as an appendage, literally part of them," said Rosen.

Rosen said this behavior can be explained by the human desire for connection – but that "we, adults, grew up thinking connection was face to face, or at worst, on the phone."

He cited a study that asked young people about their preferred way to connect with friends. In order, they said: 1) texting, 2) social media, 3) instant messaging, 4) telephone, and 5) face to face. Rosen noted that the only one that requires monotasking is face to face.

"These younger generations do not like to unitask," Rosen said.

Jaeyln Singleton, 14, a sophomore at McClatchy, agreed. "Things just go a lot easier for me when I'm doing more than one thing at once," she said.

Another McClatchy student, Jesse Baugh, 16, said he gets annoyed when people call as opposed to text.

"Right now if I got a phone call, I don't know if it's an emergency – at least send a text message before calling," said Baugh, who prefers texts because he can check them while doing other things.

MTV Insights, the subdivision of MTV that headed the study, was unable to comment. Jason Rzepka, a media representative for MTV, said the actual study was proprietary information and would not be released to the public.

Rosen urged educators and parents to help young people wean themselves off the need to check technology as often – to maintain productivity and creativity and to keep anxiety levels low.

He suggested that teachers give a one-minute tech break at the beginning of class and after every subsequent 15-minute block, eventually increasing to 20 minutes, then 30, and finally moving to two minutes at the middle and end of class.

Otherwise, students will think about nothing else except their phones. Rosen explained, "You can't be nervous and learn."

"It's not our fault. I think technology has finally figured out how to really trigger interest in our brain," said Rosen. "It attacks all of our senses. God help us when they start having smells come out of our computer."

Rosen, an avid technology user, said he was pleased to discover MTV's finding that young millennials are slimming down social networks and valuing privacy.

Rosen's 23-year-old daughter recently showed him how she used the increasingly popular – and controversial – Snapchat app.

Rosen said Snapchat is not at all for sexting, as many parents fear. "I think it's just a smart way to connect," he said. "This younger generation is very concerned about privacy. We have to give them credit for being smarter."

Johnson, the McClatchy High student, said the honesty of Snapchat messages is what makes the app popular. "It's almost real time," said Johnson. "You can send really ugly pictures of yourself and then they disappear," she said.

Snapchat also forces Johnson to be creative. "You only have so much space to write," she said, "so you have to think of something to make them laugh."

Regarding the popularity of Snapchat and more private social media, Rosen said, "Nobody has studied this yet, because it's so new. But there is somewhat of a revelation that there are other ways to connect – and also maintain control."

Guide to social media

Vine – Create six-second looping videos and share them with the world. There are currently no privacy settings available. Compared to Instagram video, "it's just more fun," said Natalee Gallagher, 14.

Snapchat – Take a picture or a 10-second video, send it to one or several friends who must be individually selected, and after one to 10 seconds of viewing, it disappears. Users can add a caption or draw on the picture with a Microsoft Paint-like tool. Popular for sending "ugly selfies."

Instagram – Take a picture or 15-second video, apply one of several vintage-looking filters – which usually remedies poor photographic ability or picture quality – and share privately with friends or with the world.

Twitter – Users post messages of up to 160 characters that are saved on a feed. Public feeds are searchable by anyone using Twitter, but feeds can be made private.

Facebook – The most visited social networking website in the world, where users can share pictures, links and play games with their friends. Not popular with young teens, according to Kennedy Arreguin, 13, who said, "Everyone's parents got Facebook. ..." "So then it's like, we don't want to use that anymore," continued her friend Natalee Gallagher.

Call The Bee's Ellen Le, (916) 321-1031.

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