Growing up digital

  • teens texting

With 95 percent of today’s teens having access to smartphones, they are more connected than ever, and UCI’s Connected Learning Lab is studying the effects the digital age is having on the nation’s youth.

Candice Odgers, professor of psychological science, is one of 12 CLL faculty members researching the topic.

In a recent UCI article, she explains that “researchers want to determine how to leverage new technologies and build supportive environments in a manner that will decrease inequality instead of amplifying it.”

From the article:

“We have the largest world population ever of adolescents: 1.8 billion. And, this group is very digitally connected,” notes Odgers, a UCI professor of psychological science who studies adolescents’ mental health and development.

She points out that although one in three users of the internet is younger than 18, cyberspace isn’t geared toward them.

“We really need to think about not only how youth are shaped by their experiences in the online world, but how the online world can be designed in ways that could be more supportive or that could reduce these inequalities that we are seeing,” she says.

According to Odgers, who started tracking kids with cell phones 10 years ago, many adolescents are actually thriving in the digital age.

“We see high rates of high school graduation and declining rates of things like teen pregnancy, alcohol consumption and violence,” she says. “So most kids are doing well. Even in cases where young people seem to be struggling a bit more, like with mental health, we don’t find evidence that smartphones are to blame. People really want to blame the devices, so it’s important to understand what the real effects are.”

She says there’s better data today on digital technology and kids – and it’s becoming more nuanced. For instance, all youth, but especially those from low-income families, are increasingly connecting to the online world and their social networks via smartphones and mobile devices. They spend, on average, three more hours a day on a device than children from high-income families, and that time is spent a bit differently. Kids in high-income environments devote a larger portion of their time to searching for information or doing things considered educational as opposed to entertaining.

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