Technology and the Average American Teen

Over the next few weeks, Parenthetical will be focusing on the role of technology in the lives of today’s teens and parents. 

Did you know that 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the web?  A quarter of a century is not very long for an innovation to have made such an impact. However, from the perspective of today’s teens, 25 years is F….OR….E….VER.

Today’s teens have never known anything other than a “wired” world.  Think about it.  Was your child born in 1999?  So was Napster.  2000?  Massive multi-player online games were just coming into being.  Born in 2001 and your teen shares a birthday with Wikipedia.  2002?  Friendster.  2003?  Skype.  2004?  Facebook.  2005?  YouTube.

Much of the technology that adults consider “new” is as everyday and commonplace to today’s teens as cars were to someone born in 1950 or television to a child of the 1970s.

So how are teens using technology?

While our grandparents hung out in a booth at the local malt shop, teens today maintain many of their social connections via technological tools.  So it is no surprise that 81% of online teens use some kind of social media.  Here are some examples of how teens in 2012 were connected through technology:

  • Three-quarters of teens used Facebook.
  • One-quarter of teens used Twitter.
  • 11% of teens had an account on Instagram.
  • 95% of all teens ages 12-17 were online
  • 93% of teens had a computer or had access to one at home
  • 78% of teens had a cell phone (half of which were smart phones)

Interestingly, while teens are sharing more information about themselves online than they have in the past, they are also more conscious of the need to take precautions to protect their privacy online.  So while the vast majority of teens (80-90%) are likely to post a photo of themselves online, share their real name in an online profile or post personal information (like their favorite movies), they are also highly likely to set the privacy settings on their online accounts or report that they have avoided downloading an app due to privacy concerns.

(All statistics in this section were from the Pew Internet and American Life project reported at

How does technology influence the way we parent?

The influence of technology does not fall solely on kids. After all, what affects kids affects parents. Apart from parents’ personal technology usage, technology also influences parenting behaviors such as:

  • Decisions about how much and what technology to let our kids access
  • Constant access to and ability to keep tabs on our kids
  • New virtual “places” to monitor and protect our kids (i.e., online bullying)
  • Choices about manners and social norms around technology (Is it okay to text at dinner?)
  • Increased efficiency in scheduling, flexible work, and communication
  • New fun activities and entertainment to share with our kids
  • Distracted kids who are more interested in media than mom or dad
  • Educational tools to support our kids’ learning
  • Convenient and regular contact with our child’s school
  • Immediate contact with family, friends or professionals for support and feedback
  • Search tools at our fingertips for questions related to parenting and child development

In the upcoming weeks on Parenthetical:

  • We’ll introduce a new UW-Extension resource called eParenting: High Tech Kids with specific tips about how to positively integrate technology into your parenting practice.
  • We’ll share research on the benefits of one technology with a bad reputation – video games.
  • We’ll explore how to evaluate your teens’ technology usage. Is it under control or out of control? Are you allowing enough privacy or too much? What are the benefits and drawbacks?

In the meantime, we’d really like to hear from you.

How do you use technology in your parenting?

How does technology make parenting hard for you?

Does it ever help?


Article by Anne; Video by Heidi

Anne-Headshot-useAnne is an interim Extension Specialist with Cooperative Extension Family Living Programs at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She is also a doctoral student in Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and has a masters degree in Public Health. She is the oldest of three children.


photoHeidi is a senior Human Development and Family Studies major at the University of Wisconsin Madison and has been our Parenthetical intern.  She is the middle child of the three in her family, with an older brother and a younger sister and often felt lost in the mix of things as the middle child.  When she is not studying, she likes traveling home to Chicago on weekends, watching movies, and spending time with friends.