If your teen is average, he or she spends between forty to forty-eight hours a week (6.7 hours per day) behind a computer screen. If you are an average parent, you probably do not understand either computer technology or what your child is doing online.
Most teens have their computers turned on all the time, but they are not necessarily paying complete attention to them. A teen may be doing homework, watching television, listening to music on an i-pod, downloading a movie, and talking on a cellphone while "online." While many parents would prefer their children would concentrate on one thing at a time, today's teens are masters of such "multi-tasking." By the way, employers love the way Gen X and Gen Y can "multi-task" on the job.
Email and Instant Messages
Email and Instant Messaging are both ways teens keep in touch with friends, teachers and advertisers. Your teen probably checks her email several times a day, but keeps her "instant message" function operating constantly. IMing is the most popular way for teens and tweens to communicate, and they also IM via cellphone (an activity teachers hate!).
Instant messaging allows a teen to type and send messages back and forth in real time in a secret code parents do not understand. The screen may look like the words below, with the sender's screen name (cutegirl12034) next to her message. Your teen's screen name (wowfanatic) is before his reply to cutegirl. Here is a translation of an IM:
>cutegirl12034< SUP (What's up?)
>WOWfanatic< F2T? (Free to talk?)
>cutegirl12034< No, POS (No, parent over my shoulder)
>WOWfanatic< TTFN? (Ta Ta for now?)
>cutegirl12034< CUL8R (See you later)
Most teens are IMing many people all at once. They may be "real world" friends from school or "online" friends they have never met in person.
Teens spend a lot of time on websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Live Journal and Friendster where they simply hang out with one another, the way other generations gathered in hamburger joints. One count estimates that over 85% of all high school and college students are members of MySpace or Facebook. MySpace enrolled its 100 millionth member in August 2006. These websites are big business and account for about 8% of all the "hits" on the Internet. Mega mogul Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace for $580 million in 2005, which may have been a bargain. The Harvard students who created Facebook in 2004 asked $2 billion for it in March 2006.
Each member creates a "profile page" about himself that usually includes pictures. Many profiles are detailed and very creative, with lists of the person's favorite bands, movies, books, foods, etc. Teens can allow anyone access to their profiles, or limit access to approved lists. They can choose to belong to "communities" such as their high school, college, fraternity or city's network. Many teens provide online diaries or "blogs" next to their profiles that describe their daily lives. Some networks allow teens to email each other within the site to notify friends of new material posted.
There are actually books parents can buy about teens' social networking, but it is easier just to register your profile and see what's going on yourself. You can check out what your children have posted. However, be ready for revenge. When a New York Times writer joined Facebook, his son did a "friend-bombardment" by forming a group called "Friend My Father." His dad received a constant stream of IMs and messages like "waddup mr shcwartz?" "how it goes" and "r u a journalist?"
About 60% of teens log on these networks every day to check out what their friends are up to and keep up their blogs.
Just like adults, teens often surf the net when they want to make a major purchase such as a prom dress, video game, or car accessory. They can find the best prices and compare items all in the privacy of their rooms.
Chatrooms and Online Communities
Teens join "online communities" to interact with others who have similar interests. For example, readers of the Harry Potter books meet one another and discuss the books on message boards and chatrooms. Chatrooms operate like the IM function, in that you type and send messages in real time to someone else online. Message boards allow you to post longer opinions and often take the form of passionate discussions among a large group over the course of days or weeks.
There are online communities devoted to thousands of teen topics from Britney Spears to poker.
Many teens spend hours playing video games in tournaments with other players from around the world.
One popular game, the World of Warcraft, has over seven and half million members who both purchased the game and pay $15 a month to participate. This game and others allow players to create their own character who moves up through increasingly difficult levels of challenge. Players can log on any time of the day or night and challenge members from all over the globe.
The games are complex, fascinating and addictive. The popular teen television show, "South Park," did a parody that depicted boys so addicted to Warcraft that they played for months without eating, sleeping, dressing or using the bathroom.
It's true: your teen uses her computer to do homework! The library is now passť: today's student has encyclopedias, websites written by experts, summaries of literary masterpieces and a myriad of other scholarly information all at his fingertips. There are also hundreds of websites that have files of term papers you can buy instantly, or who have writers on hand to produce an exclusive one for your next school deadline - usually at an exorbitant price.