New omnibus(1) research from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America shows that more than one-third of parents are concerned that TV (38 percent), computers (37 percent) and video games (33 percent) make it harder for them to communicate with their media-engrossed teens about risky behaviors, like drug and alcohol use. The survey of more than 1,200 parents also confirms that a quarter or more are worried that newer forms of media, including cell phone texting (27 percent) social networking sites, like Facebook (25 percent) and Twitter (19 percent) hinder effective parent/child communication about the dangers of teen substance abuse.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study of 2,000 teens released earlier this year(2), the average amount of time young people (8-18 year olds) spend consuming entertainment media is up dramatically to almost eight hours per day – that's at least 53 hours a week of immersion in some form of media. The research also noted that the more media teens consume, the less happy they tend to be and those who are most captivated by media reported their academic performance suffered. About half (47 percent) of heavy media users reported they usually get fair to poor grades, mostly C's or lower, compared to about a quarter (23 percent) of light media users.
"These new findings present a unique opportunity for parents to play a more active role in what their kids are watching, monitor how they are spending their time online and remain aware of the impact all of this media consumption is having on their impressionable teens," said Partnership President Steve Pasierb. "We know that kids today are bombarded with pro-drug and drinking messages via everything from song lyrics, movies and video games, to social networking sites. Videos of kids abusing cough medicine and common household products to get high are all too accessible online and that's why it's more important than ever for parents to break through the media noise and make their voices heard."
The Kaiser study notes the drastic increases in media consumption among youth are driven in large part by easy access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPod media players. Among kids and teens, cell phone ownership has increased sharply since 2004, from 39 percent to 66 percent in 2009, while ownership of iPods jumped drastically from 18 percent to 76 percent over the same time period. Overall, 20 percent of kids' media consumption comes from mobile devices.(3) And, as kids get older and consume even more media, the level of concern among parents increases and can lead to breakdowns in parent/child communication.
"I feel the frustration that comes from my daughters' being constantly glued to their cell phones texting and sending non-stop instant messages and watching endless hours of trashy, reality TV shows," said Susan Wilson, mother of three teenage daughters. "But I've accepted that the role that media and technology plays in the lives of our kids is not going away and, as parents, we have to meet teens where they are. We have to be willing to listen to their music, watch their movies and know about the latest TV programs our kids are watching if we're going to stay on top of what they are exposed to."
Wilson added, "I've learned that even though I proactively limit it at times, embracing technology has actually improved my communication with my family. I've had some of the most meaningful conversations with my daughters about the pressures of growing up via text messaging. Not only is that less threatening to them, but they can keep a written record of my 'voice' that they can refer to again later."
As Kids Head Back to School, Take "Time To Text" Your Teens
Back-to-school season signifies a time of new beginnings for teens, yet it can also mark a time of new challenges for many young people dealing with added pressure from peers, especially when it comes to teen drug and alcohol use. Parents are encouraged to frequently communicate with their kids about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and the Partnership's TimeToTalk.org empowers them to recognize the influence they have in their children's lives, while offering easy, online resources to help parents start an ongoing dialogue with their kids about avoiding risky behaviors. Parents can learn about what teens are seeing and learning from their increased exposure to media and use those "teachable moments" as a starting point to supervise their kids' media consumption and talk with them about the importance of making positive, healthy decisions for themselves.
Parents and caregivers who are waiting for the "right time" to talk with their kids about the dangers of drug and alcohol use may be missing key opportunities to influence their kids' choices on this important health issue. While nothing can take the place of in-person conversations, harnessing the communicative power of technology including emails, cell phones, and even texting, can help start a conversation with a reluctant teen. Also, parents can reinforce these messages at times when teen drinking and drug use is more likely – after school, on weekends and during unsupervised hours.
Free Tool at TimeToTalk.org Helps Parents and Caregivers Text Their Teens
For those parents who are hesitant or don't know how to send text messages, the Partnership has created a free, downloadable guide called "Time To Text." The tool is now available at TimeToTalk.org and offers quick tips on how to text, suggests examples of different messages to send to teens and even provides a cheat sheet parents can keep in their wallet.
"Some parents may still feel apprehensive about embracing media and technology as a way of communicating with their children, but, in today's world, it is vital that they connect with their kids in any way possible," added Pasierb. "It is important that we help bridge the technology gap between parents and 'Generation Text'."
Time To Talk reaches parents and caregivers through the support of 2010 sponsors, A&E Network, Comcast, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, The Hershey Company, King Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Major League Baseball Charities, Major League Baseball Players Association, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and Yahoo! To learn more about starting the conversation with kids and teens, visit TimeToTalk.org.
About The Partnership
The Partnership at Drugfree.org is a nonprofit organization that helps parents prevent, intervene in and find treatment for drug and alcohol use by their children. Bringing together renowned scientists, parent experts, and communications professionals, the Partnership translates current research on teen behavior, addiction and treatment into easy to understand resources at drugfree.org. Through its nationwide PACT360 community education programs, the Partnership educates and mobilizes local community efforts to address drug threats at the grassroots level, including methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse, and also provides parent training and teen programs that help prevent teen substance abuse. The Partnership depends on donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and government. The Partnership thanks SAG/AFTRA and the advertising and media industries for their ongoing generosity.