Survey shows teens healthy, but what about data on smartphones?
Wednesday, January 11, 2017 10:10 AM
Minnesota students seem to be doing quite well according to an ongoing survey, but one has to wonder if it isn’t time to include a seemingly harmless practice — use of mobile devices — into the list of questions answered by teens every three years.
The results of the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey show a majority of students in Minnesota feel highly engaged in school, report good health, and feel safe in their homes, neighborhoods and schools.
The survey has been tracking trends since the 1990s as Minnesota’s fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th grade students complete a voluntary, anonymous survey every three years. It includes questions on school climate, bullying, emotional health, substance use, connections with school and family, and many other topics.
“There are many factors outside of school that can prevent children from succeeding,” noted Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a recent news release. “That is why the Minnesota Student Survey is so valuable. Schools, districts, community organizations, local and state agencies rely on MSS data to identify the issues young people are facing, so that we can address those issues to strengthen student achievement.”
These are some of the highlights of the recent survey:
Healthy: Sixty-nine percent of Minnesota students surveyed reported excellent or very good health. Teens are engaging in fewer risky behaviors. Student smoking rates have fallen to an all-time low, though a gap continues to persist with children of color and economically disadvantaged students smoking at higher rates. Alcohol use, sexual activity and marijuana use have also fallen.
Safe: Eighty-seven percent of students say they feel safe at home, at school, in their neighborhood and going to and from school. However, 18 percent of students surveyed reported being bullied or harassed weekly in at least one way during the last 30 days. Economically disadvantaged students and LGBT students report higher rates of bullying.
Engaged: Seventy-eight percent of students feel highly engaged in school. Sixty-five percent are engaged in out-of-school time activities at least three days a week.
Supported: Seventy-five percent of students believe their school provides a supportive place for learning.
Still, one has to wonder about the effect of mobile devices on the health of young people. The survey addresses bullying by social media, but appears to have few questions regarding general use of technology.
A national survey by Common Sense Media, an organization that studies and rates media and technology for kids and families, found that half of all teens say they feel addicted to their mobile devices. Others may not admit to an addiction, so the real number could be higher.
“Digital devices have transformed people’s lives. They are changing everything from parent-child relationships, to human interaction, to our ability to focus on the task at hand,” James Steyer, founder and chief executive of Common Sense, told the Washington Post recently. “And particularly for young people who are growing up as digital natives. It has public health concerns.”
The Common Sense Media report also found that devices are impacting relationships. A total of 77 percent of parents surveyed feel teens are distracted by devices. Of course, 41 percent of teens say the same thing about their parents.
Some analysts go so far to suggest that the decrease in consumption of alcohol and drugs by teens — across the nation as well as in Minnesota — is related to an increasing addiction to mobile devices. More social media could mean less fact-to-face socializing, which may lead to less direct peer pressure for alcohol and drugs.
As is often observed, many teens seem to be on their phones all the time — in school, in bed at night, while watching television, while doing homework and while others are trying to talk to them.
In the Common Sense Media survey, nearly 80 percent of teens admitted to checking their phones every hour and another 72 percent said they felt the need to respond to texts and social media messages almost immediately.
Once online communications becomes a dominant force in the life of teens, this condition could set them up to face difficulty interacting with others one-on-one in person. After all, teenage brains are still developing, building not only cognitive growth, but also social skills.
It also leads to the question of what else are they missing out in terms of personal growth and development, social skills and learning?
While the Minnesota Student Survey shows students in Minnesota seem to be relatively healthy, engaged, safe and supported, there were a few negatives shown in the results, including a concerning one in the area of mental health.
About one in five students showed signs of depression, and 12 percent of 11th grade students reported that they seriously considered suicide in the past year, up from 9.7 percent in 2013. The percentage of students who were overweight or obese also increased.
No connection in the Minnesota survey findings was made between those alarming results and the use of technology by students, yet the leap could easily be made. However, any correlation would be based purely on conjecture.
Still, the impact of technology on the health of our students is worth exploring in the Minnesota surveys. It seems there is a danger lurking below the surface that has the potential to cause real harm to our young people.