Older Teen Girls Gather While Boy Hunt Online

There is now statistical corroboration for what parents of teens must have known or suspected — girls aged 15 to 17 tend to spend more online time in search and email tasks while boys in the same cohort lead in the pursuit of blasting, hewing and generally playing online. That is one finding of a report entitled Teens and Technology that was released recently by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

If you’re not already familiar with Pew, the project has sponsored a long list of scientifically valid surveys on online behavior, politics and religion. This report on teens confirms what must surely be the general understanding that young people have woven electronic gadgets, communications and online tools into their lives. Parents may want to scan the report, and educators will be interested in this and an even newer companion report from Pew entitled The Internet at School.

I want to extract a few thoughts from the overall Teens & Technology report that I deem of interest to current or potential publishers. Most notably is the finding that junior high seems to be the time of awakening for online use. “While about 60 percent of the 6th graders in our sample reported using the Internet, by 7th grade it jumps to 82 percent who are online,” Pew reports, “climbing steadinly before topping out at 94 percent for the eleventh and twelfth graders.”

The girl-boy comparisons, more fun than enlightening perhaps, are best grasped by glancing on the chart on page 37 of the PDF version of the report. More important than the differences, however, are the similarities — teens of both genders are avid instant messengers, tend to get news online, shop for goods and information and generally embrace new media.

I was struck with the finding (page 21) of the prevalence of avatars by teen in the course of instant messaging. This would seem to open a whole new area of identity definition — or crisis. But that’s just my inner-dad in me talking I’d best leave such ruminations to the psychologists and sociologists and get back to business.

In that regard I wish the report had more detail on online games, in which I’ve only recently become interested, never having been much for games myself. Though I used the boy-girl game divide as a silly headline grabber, the more serious observation is the pervasiveness of these virtual pasttimes. Pew reports that 76 percent of teen girls and 86 percent of teen boys play online games. That statistic leaves me with this, as yet, unanswerable question — are the kids showing us the future of media?

Here’s what I mean. It is now funny and anachronistic to think that the early television broadcasters sat at desks and performed if they were radio personalities who happened to be in front of a camera. Eventually television invented a new visual grammar and today we have super slowmo, and weather maps and the whole magilla.

What if old media farts like me are making the same mistake in a different way? Maybe we are assuming that media is something we create and put out there, and then pat ourselves on the back if we manage to deliver it via podcast or send it to a mobile device. But instead of being cool, maybe we’re playing the fool. Maybe the next media is a group sport, a giant game, a collaborative effort, and a remix culture is emerging that will make all our centralized production efforts look as lame as the first television personalities.

Come to think of it, I ought to ask my teens. After all, don’t they know everything?

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media