Current Environment:

Teens and Their Devices

Teens have grown up surrounded by a steady flow of media. TV and movies arrive by cable, satellite, streaming, and on demand. Social media, fun apps, and video games are on tablets and smartphones. Texting is as close as their thumbs. Teens may think they know all about today’s media, but they may not know enough about viewing and interacting with media safely and wisely.

As a parent, it is your job to talk with your teen about smart and safe media use.

Balancing the Digital World and Real World

Both traditional and social media can enrich a teen’s world with knowledge, create awareness of current events, and promote civic and community involvement. Online video platforms such as Facetime, Skype, and Google Hangout, along with group text messaging and file sharing sites where several people can work on a document simultaneously, allow students to collaborate on school projects and connect with friends and family far away.

If media use is not carefully managed, however, it can quickly get out-of-hand. According to a Common Sense Media report, 1 in 4 adolescents said they are “constantly connected” to the internet. All that time spent on their smartphones and other devices can use up time needed to engage in activities essential for good health - like enough sleep and exercise - and can negatively impact school performance.

“Doze” and Don’ts

Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep a night on average. Mobile device use close to bedtime can disrupt both the length and quality of your child’s sleep. A large part of this is due to the blue light wavelengths being emitted from the screen.

When using devices in the evening make sure to turn the brightness down, and power them off completely one hour before bedtime. Place them on the charger outside of your bedroom - phones or other devices should never stay in a child’s room overnight. Vibrating and audio alerts from incoming messages can keep teens awake. Despite what your teen may tell you, putting a device on silent isn’t enough. They may be tempted to use their device when they should be sleeping. If your teen insists that they use their phone as an alarm or for music, one option might be to provide a dedicated alarm clock or music player that has no social media capability.

When to Avoid

Driving: The National Safety Council estimates more than 1.5 million car accidents are caused by distracted drivers using cell phones each year. Also - it’s against the law.

Walking: One survey found that 40% of teens have been hit or nearly hit by a car, bike, or motorcycle while walking - often while listening to music, texting, or talking on the phone.

Doing Homework: A 2015 research review suggests that multitasking with electronic devices has a negative effect on homework, studying, and grades.

Digitally Distorted Reality

Images or information on TV, in movies, or shared on social media do not always reflect real life. Media often presents unrealistically thin or muscular body images that can contribute to eating disorders or the use of potentially dangerous nutritional supplements. This unfortunate fact has been demonstrated in both males and females.

The media may also make it seem like everybody is “on board” with certain risky activities. Consequences of these activities such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and substance abuse are rarely shown.

Many violent acts, including dating violence, in the media are committed by characters otherwise shown as role models. Viewers rarely see the long-term physical and emotional suffering violence can cause.

Harmful stereotypes are less common than they once were in the media, but they still show up. Suggest thatyour teen compare images of diverse populations they see in the media with people they know in real life. Consider how accurate those images are and discuss any underlying feelings of discrimination or prejudice.

Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy

Have ongoing talks with your teen about responsible online citizenship. This includes treating others with respect online and offline. Let them know to tell a parent or other trusted adult if they or someone they know is being bullied, disrespected, attacked, or treated badly online.

Remind your teen that a platform’s privacy settings do not actually make things “private”. Images, thoughts and behaviors shared online become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Never forward a text or photo without asking permission, including texting inappropriate pictures or “sexting”. Images on apps like Snapchat, for example, may disappear after viewing but can easily be saved by using a phone’s screen shot function.

If your child is an older teen, they may think giving you full access to their account is too invasive. Consider a compromise. Have them add you as a friend so you can monitor their activities via your own account, but be aware that teens may have other accounts on which they interact with their peers more frequently. Ultimately, building trust with your teen, establishing rules, and keeping the conversation going on responsible media use are the most protective ways to teach responsible media and device use.


Last Updated 1/12/2017

Source Council on Communications and Media (Copyright © 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics). For more information visit

The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.