For Growing Number of Teens Cell Phones Aren’t for Talking, Study Says

Teen using cell phone. Photo by Clay Duda for JJIE.orgThe average American teen is sending more text messages than ever before, quickly becoming their primary means of daily communication according to a report published last month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The report, entitled “Teens, Smartphones & Texting,” was penned by Amanda Lenhart, and notes several major statistical changes regarding teenager cell phone use in just over a two-year period.

According to the report, a typical teen ages 12 to 17 was sending approximately 60 texts per day in 2011, up from 50 in 2009.

Additionally, the report finds that older teens, boys and African-Americans are texting in greater numbers than in 2009. The research indicates that kids ages 14 to 17 are sending a median of 100 texts per day, almost doubling the median number of texts the same age group was sending in 2009.

The report states that text messaging has become far and away the most frequent form of daily communication for teenagers, with 63 percent of all teens stating that they send at least one text message per day. Only 39 percent of teens speak with friends via cell phone on a daily basis, the report found, and only 35 percent engage in face-to-face socializing with their peers outside of school activities.

In 2011, more than 75 percent of teenagers report owning a cell phone. However, the percentage of young teenagers (those ages 12 to 13) owning such devices has slipped to 57 percent, down from 66 percent in 2009.

Location-based services, such as Foursquare, are also popular among teens, the report said. The services allow teens to show their friends where they are by checking in at their location using their smartphone. According to the report, roughly 6 percent of all U.S. teenagers use such services. The report finds that teens with smartphones are more than twice as likely to use location-based services than teens with standard cell phones, and almost ten times more likely than teenagers using non-phone technologies.

Photo by Clay Duda |

Disney, Take Beyond Scared Straight Aff the Air

Leonard Witt
Leonard Witt

An Open Letter to

Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company

Dear Mr. Iger:

I know Disney is a large company and you, like Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, can’t oversee everything. So I want to let you know about one of your company’s investments -- Disney’s one-third equity stake in the A&E Television Networks. Since it is not fully under Disney’s control, maybe that’s why you haven’t been watching A&E’s "Beyond Scared Straight." Certainly if you had, you would have intervened and pulled it off the air, but alas last week marked the beginning of its second season.

I am calling your attention to "Beyond Scared Straight" because it doesn’t at all fit the core principles of the Disney Corporation. I am sure you have read those core principles, maybe you even helped write them because they are front and center on your website.

Here, I will reprint them as a reminder:

Three core principles help guide our daily decisions and actions:

  • Act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions
  • Champion the happiness and well-being of kids, parents, and families in our endeavors
  • Inspire kids, parents, employees and communities to make a lasting, positive change in the world

Let’s take them one at time:

  • Act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions

scared_straight_seriesThe evidence is in, the Scared Straight program where kids are sent into prisons to be scared straight, does not work. Experts  writing for and at other reputable publications have made it very clear that volumes of research have shown the Scared Straight approach does not work. Here is what Joe Vignati, director of Justice Programs at the Georgia Governor's Office For Children and Families, recently wrote: “The scared straight approach is an inappropriate and unacceptable means for disciplining children. This approach has been shown to cause short- and long- term harm and actually INCREASES the likelihood of re-offending among some participants.”

Of course, you are free to argue with Mr. Vignati and the scores of researchers, but if by chance, you might believe in empirical evidence, then you might ask yourself and the folks at A&E if all of you have acted in an ethical manner and considered the consequences of your decision to subject these kids to the public humiliation they receive on the show.

That brings us the second of Disney’s core principles:

  •   Champion the happiness and well-being of kids, parents, and families in our endeavors

Does that principle include having several hulking adults surround individual teenagers and scream at them until the teens break down into tears? Does championing their well being include dressing them up in prison stripes and have then duck walk across the prison floor in front of your two million-plus viewers who watched the show last week? Does it include threatening to toss one of the teens into a cell with a prisoner who eyes the boy up and down and smiles big -- or coupling him with a big ugly guy who wants to make him his girlfriend with the complicity of the guards? You know what Mr. Iger, I found it down right disgusting and I do believe it tarnishes your image and Walt Disney’s legacy that has been put in your trust.

The final Disney core principle:

  •  Inspire kids, parents, employees and communities to make a lasting, positive change in the world

If you think screaming at kids until it gets your stomach churning is inspiration to make a lasting change, then sir, you and Disney have a problem.

Enough, please do me a favor, watch the program, then call your equity partners at the Hearst Corporation and NBCUniversal and pull this show off the air now. Then apologize to everyone who really cares about kids and then invest some real money in the kids who have been in the program and get them the help they need to lead productive lives.

Youth Courts 101: A How-to Video Primer and Manual

Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation in New York City gives an excellent overview of how youth courts work in this video interview with Leonard Witt of the They are completely teen driven with teens as judges, attorneys and juries who hear actual cases either referred by the police or the courts. Each teen judge, attorney or juror gets 30-hours of training and has to pass a "bar exam" to be able to serve.

In the youth courts Berman's center helps oversee, the kids running the courts come from a variety of backgrounds, so the offenders are being judged by their real peers. In fact, kids who once came before the court often come back later to serve as judges, attorneys and jurors, so Berman says it can be “a life changing experience.”

Kids sent to the court have already admitted guilt and are at the mercy of their peers to design the sanctions that will be administered.

The kids ask great questions, Berman says, and have “great BS detectors.” They listen to the individual cases and then the jury delivers a sanction that, according to Berman, tends to emphasize restoration.

The outcome might be a letter of apology, public service work or links to anger management. It turns peer pressure on its head, he says, making it a positive rather than a negative and that is the nub of the youth court idea.

Watch the video below for more details. You can download the manual on Recommended Practices for Youth Courts published by the Center for Court Innovation.

Benjamin Chambers On Why Treating Teens for Substance Abuse Issues Matters

Does it really matter if we screen and assess teens for alcohol and drug problems?  Most adults, after all, started experimenting with alcohol or other drugs before they turned 21 -- and if they didn't, they almost certainly knew a lot of kids who did. And most of them (though not all) survived into adulthood.

So what's the big deal if we turn a blind eye to identify teen drinking or drugging?  Federally-funded research shows why it's a big deal from a public health standpoint:

(Click the image for a larger view.) It's taken from an excellent presentation, "Characteristics, Needs and Strengths of Substance Using Youth by Level of Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System," given by Dr. Michael Dennis, Senior Research Psychologist at Chestnut Health Systems, at the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute held in Miami last month. I'll be posting more slides from his presentation soon - stay tuned!

Here's Dr. Dennis' notes on the slide (emphasis added):

This figure shows ... the prevalence of these past year substance use and problems in the height of the graph by age along the bottom.

1- Substance use disorders typically [surface] during adolescence and young adulthood. In fact, 90 percent of all adults with dependence started using under the age of 18, half under the age of 15. Moreover, 90 percent met criteria for abuse or dependence by age 20 – thus it is primarily an adolescent onset disorder.

2- After several decades, the rates of abuse and dependence do decrease as people go into remission, incarceration or die. Epidemiological studies of people with lifetime substance dependence suggest that 58 percent eventually enter sustained recovery (i.e., no symptoms for the past year) -- a rate that is considerably better than the 39 percent average rate of recovery across psychiatric disorders (Kessler, 1994; see also Dawson, 1996; Robins & Regier, 1991).

3 – Notice how the rates of no use go up with age.

One caveat: remember that most youth in the juvenile justice system (at intake, detention, or in secure placement)don't have an alcohol and drug disorder -- though many do.  For more information, check out this post: How Prevalent are Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in Juvenile Justice? The Answer May Surprise You.

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.


Probation Domination

Probation was the most serious verdict in one-third of teen crime in the U.S. In 2007, 1.7 million delinquency cases were handled by courts with juvenile jurisdiction. This has increased 34% over the past three decades. Nearly 60% of the cases were ordered by the court while the remainder agreed to some form of voluntary probation. This is according to a report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Abusive Teenage Relationships on the Rise

Thompson High School student Shakira Hudson was 15 when she was killed.  Audrey Atkinson of Covington was 19. Jasmine Harris of Atlanta was 17 and pregnant.

All three died in 2010. Boyfriends or ex-boyfriends were charged with their murders.

The girls' deaths were among 130 recorded by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the 2010 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Report, the largest number of such homicides since the first annual report in 2003. The report was released at a news conference at the state capitol Wednesday.

Already this year, the agencies have recorded the death of 16-year-old Angel Freeman who was shot through the chest. Clayton County police arrested her 15-year-old on-again-off-again boyfriend.

Although teenagers represent a small percentage of such deaths, they are of increasing concern to law enforcement agencies, courts and victims’ advocates. Violent teen-aged relationships can have long-term repercussions. In almost 30 percent of a sampling of 75 domestic homicide cases, the victims were teenagers when they began their relationship with the person who eventually killed them. Five were only 15 when the relationship started.

“These are troubling statistics,” said Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein. “It may be important for school systems to get involved in addressing the issues of domestic violence.”

Hunstein chaired a commission formed by the Supreme Court in 1989 that looked at issues of gender bias statewide. That commission’s recommendations resulted in creation of the Commission on Family Violence.

The 1989 commission heard mostly from adults, Hunstein said. She said she found statistics on violence among dating teenagers in the 2010 report somewhat surprising.

“I don’t know whether it’s a new phenomenon,” she said, “but it certainly needs to be addressed.”

Several national studies reflect the prevalence of abusive relationships among teenagers. A 2008 report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus found that about one in three teenage girls in the United States is a victim of verbal, emotional or physical abuse from a dating partner. And a 2009 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that people 18 and 19 years old are the most frequent victims of stalking.

A separate 2009 study found that in many cases, friends know of the situation. Four in ten teenagers 14 to 17 years old reported having a friend hit or hurt by a boyfriend. Yet 68 percent of teens who had experienced abusive dating relationships said they never confided in their parents.

“Our intention is to encourage community outreach to address this knowledge gap on the part of parents,” the 2010 Georgia report says.

Teenagers who won’t or can’t confide in parents have little recourse in the state’s legal system.

“Georgia law excludes teenagers and young adult victims who are dating but have never lived with their abuser (or who do not share children) from petitioning for a Temporary Protective Order,” the report says. And the “pattern of behavior” necessary to receive an order under the stalking statute is difficult to prove.

The state might be able to prevent some deaths by giving teenagers easier access to protective orders, said Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker, chair of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.

“We allow them to make decisions regarding their health and reproductive systems,” she said. “The question becomes what do we do similarly in cases of abuse if young people decide not to involve their families.”

Escaping contact with an abuser is often difficult for a teenager because both may attend the same school and have mutual friends. Embarrassment or shame may also prevent a victim from seeking help.

“Annabelle,” an 18-year-old girl whose story is told at length in the report, survived an attack by an ex-boyfriend who later committed suicide in front of her. She had reported his abuse to the sheriff but wondered whether she was overreacting.

Parents, teachers, faith leaders, employers and friends might be able to intervene in a teen relationship if they learn the danger signals, officials said.

Many assaults occur when a victim has ended or intends to end the relationship. A victim is at high risk if the abuser has exhibited extreme jealousy, is depressed or has talked about suicide, is a heavy user of alcohol or drugs, has a history of making threats or stalking and has access to weapons.

Georgia ranks tenth in the country in overall domestic violence deaths, said state Attorney General Sam Olens.

Since 2003, the year covered by the first annual report, 962 Georgians have died because of domestic violence.

“Reading this report, I see how much further we have to go,” Olens said.