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Gender differences and cell phone use

By Sarah Klein

Everyone knows that boys and girls are different when it comes to technology. Whether it's hard-wired into us at birth or conditioned by TV or family influences later in life, most boys are comfortable picking up and playing with gadgets, while girls are generally happy to look for their entertainment elsewhere.

Now, a new study has found that these differences extend to one of the most common gadgets of all – the cell phone.

University of Alabama sociologist Shelia Cotten and her team surveyed about 1,000 middle-school students between the ages of 11 and 13. These tweens were asked to rate the different ways they used their cell phones on a five-point scale – from zero, meaning never, to five, meaning several times a day.

Cotten's study, published in the academic journal New Media & Society, found that differences in cell phone use can be seen in children as young as 11. Boys scored higher than girls for using their cell phones for sending emails, playing games, listening to music, and sharing pictures and videos. The results held up even after taking into account how much the children liked their phones and how skilled they were at using them.

"It has a lot to do with gender socialization," Cotten said in a press release. "Boys are often taught to explore and be more creative with technology and not to be afraid to take things apart. So it leads to more advanced cell phone use among boys. Boys tend to see and use the cell phone as a gadget."

Although girls were more likely to use their phones as phone books or contact lists, Cotten is quick to warn parents against buying their daughters phones with fewer features. Instead, she sees this as an opportunity to advance equality.

"More needs to be done to teach girls about the technical and more advanced multimedia features of their cell phones," she said. "Females traditionally have perceived themselves as less skilled in terms of technology, especially with regard to computers."

If this perception continues, it can limit young girls. "It can impact the types of jobs and courses that girls take," Cotten told TopTenREVIEWS. "If they are not as interested in exploring or taking apart technology, they may be less likely to take science and math courses."

While the study seemed to confirm one stereotype – that boys are more gadget-obsessed than girls – it appeared to overturn another: Boys and girls were found to spend about the same amount of time using their cell phones for chat and text, about two hours per day.

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