Teenagers and the Digital Divide

By Brenda Stephens

The Problem

The digital divide for adolescents is linked to lack of Internet access and personal electronic devices. Earlier this year, Amanda Lenhart spoke to students at George Washington University about adolescents ages 12 to 17 and how they are using the internet, social media, and mobile phones in their daily lives. The data for Lenhart’s presentation is from nationally representative telephone surveys of U.S adults and teens. Lenhart reports that 95% of teens use the Internet, but 71% of teen computer users say “the computer they use most often is shared with family members…23% of teens have a tablet computer. “ A surprising statistic from this report is “78% of teens have a cell phone…37% of all U.S teens own smartphones, up from 23% in 2011.” If a student doesn’t have a smartphones, he or she will miss out on many of the digital resources teachers are now using on a daily basis in classrooms and libraries. Many homework assignments are posted via a website with assignments requiring Internet access. With schools more and more becoming paperless, including new libraries mostly containing only digital resources, a child with limited Internet access during the day and little or none at home may fall behind quickly. The following chart shows the results of another Pew research survey. Teachers were surveyed about student use of cell phones during the day.
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Pew Research Center's Statistics Conclusions

This research was conducted in 2012 so the numbers would probably be even higher today. Other statistics from the survey reflect, “Of the teachers surveyed, 84 percent agree with this statement: “”Today’s digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts.’” A student who doesn’t have a smartphone is truly missing valuable practice using and integrating technology in learning. Smartphones are a useful tool for learning and seem to becoming a necessary component to learning in the 21st century. Cell phones however can’t take the place of a computer or Internet access.

Family Income Factors

Income is a factor in access to the Internet. Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, relayed the findings in a video and slide presentation in November 2013.
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This chart reveals that even if a teacher or librarian teaches in a school with a mix of lower and middle-income families, 30 – 40 percent of students will not have Internet access at home.

If an adolescent does not have access to the Internet and a personal electronic device, he or she will not be able to practice with technology tools necessary to be successful and thrive in the 21st century. The digital divide begins with lack of access to Internet and devices, but then extends to lack to digital literacy in using technology tools. The teacher and librarian working with school administrators and politicians can help bridge the digital divide for adolescents. The founder of Chicago's pioneering Digital Youth Network describes how the urban schools partner with the local library to provide teens access to technology. The results are impressive and inspiring!

Nichole Pinkard on Digital Literacy (Big Thinkers Series)

A Bill is Being Reviewed

In January 2014 a Bill is being reviewed by a subcommittee in the House that would allow for grants for schools and universities to collaborate concerning technology, “to design, implement, refine, and scale technology-enabled education innovation programs” (Congress.gov). Librarians can share this type of policy information to the learning community which leads to greater access to the digital world and skills to use technology tools.

Resources for Further Information

Why Should Libraries Care About Teens and Technology - Tiffany Williams, a member of the Teen Tech Week Committee, discusses the digital divide and offers suggestions on what the library can do to meet the needs of teens.

Using disruptive technologies to make digital connections: stories of media

use and digital literacy in secondary classrooms- Cell phones can be a distraction in classrooms. This article documents research completed by one high school which has found methods to use digital technology successfully in classrooms as a learning tool rather than a distraction from learning.

The US Digital Divide: A Call for a New Philosophy- The history of the digital divide is provided, updating the digital divide issues for the 21st century. Sharon Strover stresses the importance of equal access to technology, especially for economically disadvantaged individuals.

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