Don't be afraid.
That's Ryan Bistodeau's advice to teens who are leery of computers, the Internet and other technology, which all rank high on his list of hobbies.
The Academy of Richmond County senior is on the computer at least five hours a day, whether he's downloading games like Duke Nukem 3D off the Internet or scanning the latest on Sci Fi Channel Online.
"I guess I like high-tech things," Ryan said. "Most people are afraid of computers, they're afraid they're going to mess it up. There's nothing to be afraid of, if you mess something up, you can fix it."
Ryan is among an increasing number of teens who are interested in technology.
In a national survey last summer, 53 percent of teens reported they use a computer at home; 40 percent use computers at school or elsewhere and 22 percent were online each week. The survey by Teenage Research Unlimited of Northbrook, Ill., involved 2,000 teens and was conducted in June and July.
Of those 2,000 teens, 85 percent said computers and CD-ROMS were "in." But computers aren't necessarily an obsession: only 12 percent said they "usually played" on a personal computer on the weekend, and 10 percent said they "really wanted to" spend weekend time on the computer.
Playing computer games and surfing the Internet are the most popular computer activities for teens, but programming and creating data bases are drawing some techno-teens.
Mario Richardson, a freshman at Academy of Richmond County, likes to tinker with Word Perfect, Paint and create data bases and spreadsheets for lists, such as the prices of his baseball cards.
"I just find it fun. I'm really good at it," he said. "It came naturally. I just get on and know what to do."
Mario, who developed an interest in computers when he was a fifth-grader, said he's on the computer a couple of hours a day, and he likes to figure out what's wrong with other people's computers.
His mom, Hildegard, doesn't mind him spending his afternoons on the computer.
"He really got into it and he's gotten a lot out of it," she said.
At first, Jennifer Willis, 18, didn't understand why her boyfriend, Ryan, spent so much time on the computer. She had never been on the Internet before she went over to his house, and liked the sites she found.
"Once in a while, I'll get mad because he won't get off," said Jennifer, a January graduate of Academy of Richmond County. "Now when I'm here, I'm always on the Internet."
For now, conversations about computer games, Internet sites, megabytes and types of computers are still limited to certain groups at area schools.
Those topics, especially bloody and violent computer games like Rebel Assault and Dark Forces, are what Carl Rogers and his friends at A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering High School talk about.
"Those games just open up your mind and your imagination. They makes you think more," said Carl, a senior.
He's been into computers since sixth grade, when his parents bought their first computer. Now they have a newer model, an Aspire 133 Pentium, that is a permanent fixture in Carl's room. Carl says the computer is already needs to be upgraded.
Just listing the specifications of a computer confuse teens who are hesitant about using computers, even though they are readily available in classrooms and school libraries.
But the ranks of techno-savvy teens will continue to grow.
"A lot of people are starting to lean this way and like computers," said Carl, 17, who wants to major in computer engineering in college. "Most programs are user friendly."
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