The downside of teen media use: its developmental origins. That said, to understand the issues in adolescent electronic communications, one must first consider teenagers' social and developmental maturation. The development of abstract formal thought from concrete thinking processes is an important goal during adolescence. A key aspect of this maturation process is acquisition of the ability to conceptualize how one's actions in the present can lead to "big picture" consequences in the future. Like most developmental processes, this occurs slowly throughout the teen years. Thus, many teens are still relatively concrete thinkers who fail to see the long-term consequences of their online activities. Even older adolescents— who can understand implications and consequences of their online behaviors—may still execute poor judgment in deciding what to write on a blog, whom to engage in a chat room, or what types of photos are appropriate to post on a social networking site.
Issues with online media. Some adolescents may need additional guidance to help them make safe and healthy decisions regarding their use of electronic communication. They may need to be reminded that anonymity should not necessarily be equated with safety in the online arena, since adult predators frequently use chat rooms and the like as a vehicle for identifying and grooming victims. In one survey, 15% of 10- to 15-year-olds reported an online sexual solicitation in the previous year (43% of which were via instant messaging, while 32% occurred in chat rooms).2
In addition, adolescents (and many adults) frequently overestimate the degree of privacy they may have online. They probably don't realize that in many instances, their online activities can be viewed by relatives, school administrators, potential employers, and even college-admissions officers. Furthermore, corporations such as Google often save posted information and media in a "cache" that can be retrieved by online surfers for years, even if the poster has removed the information. (See the Patient Information Guide on staying safe online.)
"Sexting," a relatively new phenomenon, began making headlines after 3 teenaged girls used their cell phone cameras to take and send nude self-photos to 3 male friends. The adolescents were charged with the creation, dissemination, and possession of child pornography. As news of the case unfolded, news reports indicated that sexting was more widespread than previously imagined.
Issues with text messaging. In the past 2 years, the dangers of "texting while driving" has generated considerable attention both in the media and in various legislative bodies. A number of government reports suggest that the action of sending and receiving texts easily distracts a driver and increases his risk of a motor vehicle accident. In one Pew Research Center survey, 26% of teenagers reported that they have texted their friends while driving.3 Qualitative findings in the survey suggest that many of these adolescents feel that despite the known risks of this activity, they underestimate the dangers and think that they have developed methods (albeit flawed) for simultaneously texting and driving.3 To date, 19 states have enacted bans on text messaging while driving.