Feature

Most people over age 40 can remember a world without high-speed connections. But for young adults under 25, it's almost unfathomable. With children now beginning to go online between age 2 and 5, the great digital divide among the generations is even more expansive, concludes Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist of the Pew Internet and American Life Project (see pewinternet.org).

Speaking at the APA Practice Directorate's 14th Annual Institute for Psychology in the Schools held during APA's 2007 Annual Convention, Lenhart presented data she has gathered looking at how 1,100 teenagers age 12 to 17 and their parents use the Internet. She has found that while 70 percent of American adults go online,a full 93 percent of teens are logging on.

Interestingly, when explaining technology that teenagers readily use, Lenhart left out some popular choices, including gaming and e-mail. "E-mail is for old people," she said. "According to teens, it's for talking to old people and for use by old people."

Instead, social, information and entertainment options such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and photo-sharing Web sites have led to new ways for teens to socialize and express their identities. In fact, said Lenhart, 55 percent of teens use social networking Web sites to either keep in touch with friends or meet new ones. The sites enable them to display themselves and share self-expressions as they explore their own identities and personalities.

"You can put yourself up there, you can change it and you get feedback," said Lenhart. "You get people telling you that they like you and that they want to be your friend, and that's incredibly validating for a teenager."

But the lack of privacy teens have on such sites has many adults wondering how safe they are. Although 66 percent of teens with online profiles have restricted access to them in some way, the remaining 34 percent allow anyone to see their personal information. While there isn't a direct connection between having an open profile and being harassed online, online harassment, particularly among females, is an issue that teens now deal with, Lenhart reported.

Ultimately, teens will face the reality that their Internet postings will remain there for years to come, something that today's adults never had to worry about at age 16.

"We're going to have to figure out how to deal with that as a society, because it's not going away," Lenhart said. "It will be part of a generational conversation."