Method: In-depth, semi-structured interviews regarding attitudes, beliefs, and use of IT, were conducted with 128 (54 male and 74 female) middle school students in four school districts (rural/suburban and urban), and digitally recorded. Transcriptions were analyzed by multiple coders with QSR NVivo 7.0 qualitative analysis software employing a grounded theoretical framework (Glaser & Straus, 1967) to develop themes and patterns. Content analysis was conducted using SPSS 15.0 software to compare frequency patterns and descriptive information.
Results: Analyses indicate that all students have access to computers and television regardless of gender, race, religion, family SES, or school location. Students also report significant use of other IT including cell phones (84%), email (84%), video games (78%), instant messenger services (73%), and MySpace (60%), while choosing a Likert scale rating for IT use “most helpful” for communication and entertainment. Emerging themes related to IT use and psychosocial aspects of development include the importance of IT in (1) building social relationships (2) stimulating individual and group activity and entertainment, and (3) managing stress and frustration. IT is infused into the psychological and moral choices of youth that impact their behaviors including decision-making processes, adherence to parental rules, and establishment of personal boundaries. It is apparent that IT is firmly established in every aspect of their lives. As one student said, “Without technology, I can't really do anything because I use technology for just about everything.”
Conclusions and Implications: This study provides new considerations for the debate on the impact of IT in highlighting the strong ever-present influence of IT in aspects of the psychosocial lives of children. As IT usage continues to grow, social workers must be aware of current trends, language, and use patterns that can alter the lives of children positively and negatively, including the way they behave, interact with others, and understand the world. This information has significant implications for future directions in social work research on youth development, as well as for practice and policy.