Setting the stage for teens’ healthy media use

TV, computer games, music, blogs, radio, smart phones . . . to say the average American adult consumes a lot of media is an understatement.  America’s youth are no different.  With so many media sources literally at their fingertips, some children and teens may actually spend more time consuming media than sleeping. Today’s Parenthetical post talks about ways to make the time your teen spends using media worthwhile.

  A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average 8-18 year old in America spent an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media everyday.  When you add the times when youth used more than one media device at a time (using the computer while watching TV), the average daily media consumption jumps to 10 hours and 45 minutes.

While today’s teens can benefit from the wealth of information available, this near constant media use poses some unique challenges for parents.  In particular, how can parents maximize the benefits and minimize the dangers when their teens are online? How can parents monitor the media content their teens are consuming?  And can limiting your teen’s media use stifle their friendships, learning and future opportunities?

 Despite the constant presence of technology, you don’t need to hire a private detective to oversee your teen’s media use.  Instead, here are a few tips that can help you to set boundaries on media use and encourage positive and responsible consumption.

Set up a structure where you can easily monitor your teen’s media use (and encourage your teen to monitor their own use).

  • When my brothers and I were young, we were not allowed to watch certain TV shows, such as the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, our only television was in the basement of our house so you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that my brothers and I each had our favorite ninja turtle.  Since media is portable today, it is all the more important to set family rules about when and where iPads, smart phones and computers can be used.  Keep them in high traffic places in the home, where parents are likely to see kids’ activity Set up a central family phone/computer/iPad charging station and require that all devices “go to bed” at a certain time so there is no temptation to use media late into the night.

Choose media use that fits your family values and needs.

Learn from your expert.

  • Talk to your teen about the different media tools they use and why. As digital natives, teens are often better informed about current and new forms of media than adults.  Ask your teen to teach you how to use a new app or social networking site (and learn more from reviews or new sources, such as this NPR interview.  Discuss  the larger implications. benefits and consequences of different devices and media with your teen.  For instance, since Snapchat photos can be set to self-destruct in seconds does anything go or should teens still be thoughtful about what they post?

Regularly join your teen in using and watching media.

  • Join your teen in watching or using media they like and then talk about it.  You may find that you like it too. After some convincing, my husband got me to watch Star Trek Voyager and I now think it is one of the most discussable, family-friendly shows around. Don’t be afraid to watch shows with more challenging content together and compare notes with your teen..  You and your teen can also check out media guides created by groups like Common Sense Media to get ideas for movies, games, apps and websites to explore.

According to Nielsen’s U.S. Consumer Usage Report from 2012, Americans spend an average of 177 hours per month consuming media.  With a little thought and effort you and your teen can guarantee that this is time well spent.


Article by Anne Clarkson

Anne-Headshot-useAnne Clarkson received her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from UW-Madison and is currently the Digital Parenting Education Specialist with UW-Extension Family Living Programs. Over the past 10 years, she has worked as an educator in the fields of community health, parenting, family studies, and digital education. She and her husband are excited to be starting their own parenting journey this summer. Anne was a pretty easy teenager whose parents worried more about pushing her to try new experiences than about her rebellious behavior. When not talking about families and technology, Anne loves to cook, read, travel, play board games, and take long walks (ideally along beaches but typically along sidewalks).