Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Instant Messaging among Teens: An Exploratory Look at Gender and Time Usage

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Instant Messaging among Teens: An Exploratory Look at Gender and Time Usage

Article excerpt

It is a classic image deeply entrenched in the mind of the 20th century American parent: an adolescent girl with a phone to her ear. Chatting with friends she left only moments ago, she paces the floor tethered to the wall by the 3-foot cord. In clear sight of her parents and siblings, her conversational content and time usage are subject to constant scrutiny and review. But in reality, the networking habits of today's teen bear little resemblance to this once classic image. The landline telephone has long been replaced by the cell phone (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2004) and the Internet, particularly instant messaging (IM), is well on its way to becoming the communication medium of choice for teens (Guidry, 2004; Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2004; Grinter & Palen, 2002).

Yet even as IM has become mired in the life of the American teenager (Guidry, 2004) many unanswered questions related to gender and time use remain. It has been determined, for example, that women are more relationship oriented than men (Boneva, et al., 2001), and that women invest more in personal relationships and maintain a more extensive social network (Moore, 1990; Walker, 1994; Wellman, 1992). Women are also more frequent users of the telephone (Walker, 1994) and heavier users of email (Boneva, Kraut & Frohlich, 2001). But does it follow that adolescent girls are more likely to be heavy IM users than adolescent boys? Do girls participate in Internet web-blog communities, such as Xanga.com, more frequently than boys?

Grinter and Eldridge (2001) raised issues of public versus private space as they emphasized that the popularity of IM among teens stems from their need to socialize with friends while confined to their homes. Hellenga (2002) reinforces this notion, stating that peer-based connectedness is especially important for adolescents. Grinter and Palen (2002) further suggest that teens use IM to carve out a private world within the public space of home. Parents, by definition, are not included in this private space, thus it becomes difficult to determine just how much time their teens are spending on IM. Subrahmanyam, Kraut, Greenfield, and Gross (2000) have shown that most parents believe that purchasing a computer for their teen will give them an educational advantage, but if teens are multitasking between homework and IM, or remaining online IMing with friends long after their parents have gone to bed, this advantage will quickly disappear.

Using self-reported phone surveys and focus groups, the Pew Internet & American Life Project (2005), an independent non-profit organization, has provided a wealth of information about teens and the use of IM. As suggested by Reynolds (1971), however, this exploratory study utilized naturalistic observation via a computer program called Buddy Tracker. Written by a member of our research team, this innovative approach allowed us to monitor and record the IM usage of our sample population thereby providing a snap shot of actual, rather than self-reported, teen IM usage.

Numerous studies suggest that extended computer use among children may be linked to an increase risk of obesity, seizures, and hand injuries (Subrahmanyan, et al., 2000). Yet, the Pew Internet & American Life Project (2005) highlights a growth in computer usage among teens of roughly 24% in the last five years. Clearly it is important to know how much time teens are actually spending online, particularly when utilizing IM.

Literature Review

Adolescence is defined by a strong need for numerous friendships and peer-group affiliations. (Boneva, Quinn, Kraut, Kiesler and Shlovski, in press.) In addition, this developmental period is typically defined by the need for person-to-person communication with friends (Boneva, et al., in press.). Kyratzi (2004) also emphasizes the need for peer communication as a means of establishing and maintain peer culture. She asserts that peer talk is an essential device teens utilize to display their identities and ideologies. …

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