Kids practice safe text

Author: Robert Ball

Despite a few highly publicized incidents related to e-communications, the majority of American teenagers are neither flooding cyberspace with invitations to predators nor making themselves easy targets for con artists or identity thieves.

Those are the conclusions of the Harris Interactive Youth Query, conducted in December 2006 in collaboration with professors Elizabeth Moore and William Wilkie of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

The study confirms that teenagers are often more tech savvy than their parents or grandparents, including when it comes to avoiding potential pitfalls. Although cell phones, text messaging, email and social networking websites such as Facebook or MySpace dominate their communications choices and play a central role in their lives, most teens make well-informed choices when selecting communication modes for sensitive purposes.

For instance, two in three teens would break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend only in person; nearly all of the others would use either a cell phone (14 percent) or landline phone (9 percent). Similarly, 42 percent eschew all types of electronic devices for a serious argument and 50 percent will not use any device that offers less security than a telephone.

Generally, teens are more comfortable using cell phones, landline phones or instant messaging instead of social networking websites when having even moderately private conversations, sharing secrets or gossiping. Significantly, however, about a third of teens are not comfortable with anything less than personal contact for such subjects.

For ordinary daily communications, teenagers prefer cell phones for arranging meetings with friends, quick conversations about mundane matters, contacting friends when bored or inviting friends to parties and events. When they are feeling more outgoing or have more time to think about what they wish to say, they are likely to use instant messaging for noncritical communication. Social networking sites are the medium of choice for staying in touch with friends, contacting friends in distant areas or leaving short messages about nontouchy subjects.