In the last two blogs we have been discussing the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) national survey of media use in children and teens. This huge survey is not the first, but the third of its kind done by KFF. They performed the same survey in 1999, 2004, and 2009, giving us a clearer picture of how media use has changed over time. In this last blog in the series, I’d like for us to consider the type of media use most changed in the past decade–digital media–and how we respond to the huge upsurge in digital media use for children and teens.

The KFF study considered the full gamut of media, and then separated each type into categories: TV, movies, computers, video games, music, and books. Overall, they learned teens are taking in more media than ever with the biggest jumps in media usage in digital media like video games and computer use. In the past ten years, computer use has gone from 29 minutes to 1 hour and 29 minutes a day, video game use from 26 minutes to one hour and 13 minutes a day and time reading print has gone from 43 minutes a night to 38 minutes a day. These numbers help cement what we already know: digital media is slowly taking over as the most used media by children and teens. In fact, if you combine those numbers together, the digital media use is only outdone by television viewing.

The KFF is not the only one who is seeing the switchover to digital. Recently two other new stories began discussion about the importance of digital media. The first was Pope Benedict XVI’s message to the Catholic Church on World Communication Day in which he said, “Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources–images, videos, animated features, blogs, web sites…” Just as historically, priests were called to walk the streets of a city and engage the community, they are now called to use blogs, social networking sites, and other online platforms to be among the people. He encouraged priests to embrace the internet as the place where a historical faith can be translated for modern mediums. While this isn’t the first time the Pope has encouraged the use of technology, his comments make it clear he perceives the internet as an incredibly powerful tool for communicating and interacting with people. He is encouraging Catholic leaders to not stand on the sidelines but to dig into digital media and how it can provide opportunities to share faith.

Secondly, last week the Library of Congress announced that they would be archiving every public tweet, nearly 50 million daily, from the website, going back to the time the website launched in March of 2006. The Library of Congress has been collecting web-based media for years and has a collection of over 167 terabytes of web-based information. No longer is this library of all libraries simply about the written word. Since 2000, the library has been collecting legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office, and websites of Members of Congress. The Library of Congress has seen how digital media can be just as powerful and historic as the written word, and has begun to protect this media for our culture today and the future.

I am a huge advocate for youth workers to become not just users but creators of web-based and digital media. It isn’t enough for you to hang out on the outskirts of sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube with a profile you never use and 6 friends. There is no way to get an accurate feel for what digital media and communication is out there unless you dig deeper. You need to be able to get into the thick of the communication between your teens and others, looking and finding the ways they are using this digital media in the hour and a half they are on every day.

In this past year, I have learned more about my youth from my Facebook feed than I do seeing them every day at school or every week in youth group. I have found myself privy to the things they would never openly admit to my face, girls who post statuses about feeling ugly and boys who sling angry words when someone threatens a friend. I have seen the videos they make of what they do in their free time. It takes time and effort but every day I learn about them simply by being in the middle of this flow of web-based media. We can no longer afford to treat this type of media as if it might go away, or as if it is too difficult or time consuming to learn.

What parts of digital and web-based media scare you? What has you most concerned? What do we need to be talking about as a community when it comes to internet usage and teens? I’d love to hear your thoughts so that this conversation can carry on into the future.