A Guide to Managing Media for Teens and Tweens
Nowadays, it’s all but impossible for constantly-connected teens and tweens to avoid screens, media, and digital devices. At seemingly every turn, they’re inundated with notifications from their friends, new content to read or listen to, and new apps and games to play with. Between smartphones, laptops and tablets, and other digital devices, media is everywhere and all too easy for children to access whenever they please.
In this context, “media” refers to a wide variety of digital content and online spaces, including television and streaming services, social media platforms, video games, and browsing the internet. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens report discovered that tweens spend almost five hours per day on screen media, while teenagers spend over seven hours per day doing so. These averages do not include any time spent online for school or homework and indicate that some children may be focusing more attention on their online activities instead of engaging with friends and family in-person or enjoying their hobbies.
As a parent, it’s crucial for you to understand how your children use and consume media. Unchecked and extraneous use of technology can have negative effects on teens and tweens, including issues with mental health and deteriorating real-world relationships. It’s almost inevitable that your child will engage with digital media at some point or another, and it’s important to teach them about how they can use media in a healthy, productive, and positive way. Most parents are confident they can teach their children how to make good decisions online, but you must be well-informed about the relationships children have with digital media in order to offer the best guidance and advice possible.
Types of Digital Media Devices
Technology has evolved rapidly over the last several decades, with seemingly countless ways for children to get online or enjoy digital media. Even if you grew up being able to access the internet in your home or with a video game console, the number of different types of digital media devices that are now accessible to children is astonishing. The ways in which children engage with digital media can vary depending on age, gender, and income, but across demographics, two activities are the most popular: watching videos, television shows, or movies and playing video games. With so many options and opportunities available, you have to understand more about the devices kids can use to enjoy these activities and other forms of digital media.
Teens and Social Media
Social media is another major source of entertainment for teens and tweens alike. 85% of adolescents over the age of 13 have at least one social media account. However, it’s clear that though social media usage is nearly universal among teens and tweens, the platforms they prefer and the ways in which they use social media can differ greatly. The Teens, Social Media & Technology report from the Pew Research Center explored how adolescents use the top social media platforms:
The experiences that adolescents have on social media can be hugely important for them and their development. Social media platforms allow them to maintain relationships with friends and family members (especially those who don’t live in the same area) more easily. They can find real-world community events and activities, explore and share their interests with like-minded people, and even learn more about what is happening in other parts of the world.
Of course, social media isn’t perfect, and it can have negative physical, mental, and behavioral consequences for adolescents. Like other forms of digital entertainment, spending too much time on social media can detract from in-person social activities, hobbies and extracurriculars, and other responsibilities. It can also have a number of negative mental health effects, including poor sleep quality, symptoms related to depression and anxiety, and increased chances of developing an eating disorder. All of this is in addition to other concerns of using social media, such as seeing or sharing inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and threats to online security and privacy. While social media can be highly beneficial for teens, it’s crucial that they use these platforms appropriately to mitigate these potential risks.
Luckily, there are many ways you can set boundaries for your children when it comes to virtual entertainment. Most devices, software programs, websites, and apps have parental control features that you can use to diminish the potential negative consequences discussed above and ensure your child has a more positive experience with digital media. Parental controls do not have to be used as a restrictive choice or punishment for your children; rather, they are a helpful tool that you can use to your advantage to teach your kids how to have a healthier relationship with digital media beyond their adolescence and well into adulthood.
Parental control technologies have become almost a necessity for helping adolescents with safe media use. Some researchers have criticized parental controls for not prioritizing self-regulation strategies among teenagers, but other research has found that as many as seven in 10 teens have a favorable view of them. Whether parental controls are a good idea depends heavily on a number of different factors, such as your child’s age and their current online activities and habits.
Generally speaking, most parental control technologies and strategies revolve around the following areas:
Discussing Online Safety
Understanding the risks of media and using parental controls are not enough to keep your child safe online. Unfortunately, content filters can fail, children can override and outsmart parental controls, and interactions with both friends and strangers online can quickly turn inappropriate. In other words, your children still need to know how they can protect themselves while engaging with digital media, in terms of digital security and privacy, as well as in terms of healthy social communications and media consumption.
Finally, one of the best ways you can help your teenager manage their media is to teach them about digital citizenship. A digital citizen is defined as “a person who develops the skills and knowledge to effectively use the Internet and other digital technology, especially in order to participate responsibly in social and civic activities.” Simply put, becoming a good digital citizen is all about arming your child with the knowledge and skills needed to engage with the internet in a responsible, appropriate, and enjoyable way.
Digital citizenship is important for all children and adolescents to learn more about. Per a Pew Research Survey, teens do rely on their parents for guidance about how to behave online, especially when it comes to any challenging or difficult experiences. Taking the time to talk about some of the core tenants of digital citizenship will provide your tween or teen with a better understanding of how they can navigate the internet with confidence.