Teens and technology: research shatters stereotype


Teenagers were asked about their typical after school activities, with computer games only just scraping into the top 10 in 10th place and Facebook ranked ninth. Family time topped the list, with sport, homework, hobbies and odd jobs also in the top 10, compiled as part of research commissioned by the Australian Computer Society (ACS).

“We really need to re-think our stereotypes of modern teenagers,” the report’s author, Karen Macpherson from the University of Canberra Education Institute, said.

“No one would argue against the fact that teenagers have welcomed digital technologies into their lives with open arms. But it may be that the popular stereotype of teenagers as being consumed by Facebook and computer games needs some rethinking.

Dr Macpherson said by understanding teens’ attitudes to technology the ACS-University of Canberra study addressed an issue of national importance. Photo: Michelle McAulay

“Although technology is now woven into their lives, for example on a daily basis almost half of the teenagers surveyed access Facebook, this study suggested that young people today spend most of their time doing what they have done after school for generations: spending time with family; playing sport; doing jobs around the house; and doing homework.”

Dr Macpherson said it was important to understand the role of technology in young people’s lives to have a clearer picture of what might influence them to take up a career in technology, to help meet the nation’s critical skills shortage. The study gathered comprehensive information from teenagers about the role of technology in their out-of-school lives; their attitudes to the use of technology in schools; their interest in studying technology at school and later; and in taking it up as a career.

“The driver of this project was a question of Australian national interest,” Dr Macpherson said. “We need more young people to take up careers in information and communication technology.”

More than 200 teenagers aged 12-18 years participated in the survey, which was administered at a sample of ACT government and non-government schools during Terms 3 and 4, 2012.

The study found, as with many adults, the mobile phone is usually within arm’s reach. In fact by the age of 18 years, 82 percent of the students in the sample slept with their mobile turned on next to their bed either “always” or “sometimes”.

The study suggested that use of Facebook increases for both boys and girls with age; while playing computer games is very much gender related, and peaks with boys aged 13-15 years.

Results indicate that early high school is a critical time in which to engage teenagers in the study of science, maths and technology.

“In early high school, we see a mismatch between the number of students who are interested in ‘how computers work’, and the lower numbers of students who are interested in ‘studying ICT’. After these early years, interest in both declines. We have a clear opportunity to interest more students in ICT if we engage with them at around 12-14 years of age,” Dr Macpherson said.

ACS president Nick Tate welcomed the research findings.

“The ACS has long been calling on curriculum policy makers to focus more on technology education,” Dr Tate said.

“The ACS commissioned this research in the national interest to address the alarming decline in interest among students in maths and sciences.”

The teenager’s top 10

When asked what they do after school, the most common activities young people undertake on a regular basis (at least several times a week) are:


1. spending time with family (90%)
2. doing homework (82%)
3. watching television (75%)
4. doing jobs around the house (73%)
5. spending time doing a hobby (72%)
6. playing sport (67%)
7. seeing friends (65%)
8. reading (62%)
9. Facebook(61%)
10. playing computer games (46%)


Read the full report: Digital Technology and Australian Teenagers: Consumption, Study and Careers

University of Canberra