Good news for parents worried about all that time their teens spend online: It turns out that that time isn’t a waste-and can be beneficial, according to a new study. The MacArthur Foundation-long known for its generous funding of public television-reports that young people pick up key skills by participating in digital media.

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, a University of California Irvin researcher who is the lead author of the MacArthur-backed report. “There are myths about kids spending time online-that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent in the digital age.”

The MacArthur Foundation claims its report is the most extensive U.S. study on teens and their use of digital media to date. Ito’s team spent three years interviewing more than 800 young people and their parents, and spent more than 5,000 hours observing teens interacting on social networking sites, video sharing and other sites. The study was supported by the foundation’s $50-million digital media and learning initiative.

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