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Smartphones and teenagers

Smartphones. The handheld sensations that have revolutionized the world are now in the hands of most Americans. Essentially beginning with Apple’s groundbreaking iPhone released in 2007, smartphones now allow users to post pictures to social media, buy a car or even have a video chat with someone on the other side of the world. And while these devices are widespread across nearly every demographic, teenagers and smartphones have a connection unlike any other.

Social media

With what started with MySpace and has evolved into Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, smartphones have dramatically advanced the world of social media. Social media has its roots in the very beginning of computers, and MySpace quickly developed as a site to share and view videos and a cool place to interact with others.

MySpace quickly was followed by the first of the three biggest social media sites: Facebook. It quickly became the big thing in part due to its easy-to-use interface and ability to connect people around the world. Soon after came Twitter. Though both Twitter and Facebook were originally developed for online use with computers, they were adapted to be more accessible via mobile devices. Today, 49.9 percent of people 13 and older have a Facebook account, according to a Duke University study.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, a site in which users download photos or short videos, have become an instant hit with smartphone-yielding teens. This success was in large part due to the sites being easy to use and requiring little time to connect with friends.

All three sites, available as “apps” on smartphones, allow users to follow their friends and even idols (many celebrities have social media accounts). Users can keep up with other users’ lives, due to the apps’ ability to literally document one’s life through pictures, quotes and videos. In many cases, users of social media apps have the ability to “like,” “favorite” and/or reply to another user’s post.

Smartphones allow instant access to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, providing some answer as to why these mobile devices are so popular with teens. For instance, you can snap a picture, upload it to your phone, slightly edit the photo and post it to Twitter or Instagram in less than a minute.

Though uploading is not time consuming, many people spend a majority of their time on social media while on their mobile devices. A Nielsen.com study found that on average, Americans spend 34 hours, 21 minutes monthly on mobile devices, 29 percent of which is spent on social media (a higher percentage than any other category, such as games, shopping or even communications).

Schools and cellphones

Schools and cellphones traditionally have maintained a rough relationship. From the very beginning, many schools have had a “zero tolerance policy.” However, schools are re-evaluating this stance, and some educational facilities now allow students to use smartphones and tablets in school.

Jonathon Wolf, principal at Orchard Park High School, believes technology has a lot to offer, if used correctly.

As of right now, Orchard Park continues to have a zero tolerance policy, but Wolf noted that the policy is more from a “management stance” more so than a “district or school position on technology.

“We had been in the process of opening things up [in terms of allowing cellphones in school], and it didn’t seem like kids were using the technology responsibly.”

He said the policy is temporary as the district investigates the best way to handle this new age of technology.

Schools such as Lancaster High are more tolerant of cellphones, and their use is widely up to the discretion of the individual class teacher.

Meanwhile, Canisius High School gives students iPads to use both in and out of school, providing easy access to grades, online assignments and search engines.

“It is a matter of using [technology] responsibly,” Wolf said.

Cellphone snags

Though as a whole cellphones have had a positive impact on the world – specifically teenagers – they have had their share of shortcomings as well.

One of the biggest issues with cellphones and teens is cyberbullying, or bullying through the use of electronics. Traditionally cyberbullying could be as simple as a cruel or threatening text or phone call. Now, with smartphones enabling easy access to social media sites and sites that allow users to remain anonymous, cyberbullying has never been so easy.

There are numerous ways to cyberbully through social media. Fake accounts so users can make fun of others are common. Several schools in Western New York have handed out disciplinary actions to students who have created Twitter accounts that tweeted inappropriate, crude and oftentimes cruel messages to students and staff.

On Instagram, accounts pretending to be certain students mock characteristics of that student.

One student, an active social media user, said, “The things some people post are really mean. They think they have the right to make fun of other people’s flaws.”

Though cyberbullying continues to be a widespread issue, Wolf said, “It seems right now for us it’s not as prevalent as it was at one time.”

That being said, he also mentioned the possibility that cyberbullying may be more “underground,” or that students now simply shrug insults off.

Usage

One of the biggest issues surrounding teens and cellphones is the amount of time they spend together. Several studies have concluded that in many cases teenagers are scared of not having their mobile devices with them.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that teens average about seven and half hours a day “consuming media – watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking and playing video games.”

The increase in time spent “consuming media” has led to a decrease in time spent in other activities, mainly exercise and being outdoors. Teen obesity rates have risen steadily, in large part due to increased technology use.

Experts also believe that excessive social media use can lead to social awkwardness, as teens may prefer communicating over a screen rather than face-to-face. Some recent studies say that use of devices with screens – televisions, computers, smartphones or tablets – over long periods of time may affect sleep.

Smartphones have redefined an era. The ability to communicate with others halfway around the world in seconds is now a daily occurrence. A new chapter of history has been written, and teenagers are right in the thick of it.

Jack Watson is a freshman at Orchard Park High School.