What do teens really think about screen time?

Rebecca StanisicScreen time is a common topic for parents to try and manage today. Are we allowing too much? How do we make it safe? We will ask our friends and fellow parents for their thoughts or advice or learn tips from resources (like MediaSmarts!) to help us navigate this new aspect of parenting. When I was my kids’ age, we were just loading Netscape 2.0 onto our computers, and we’d check our ICQ messages before putting in a VHS to watch a movie or playing some Super Mario RPG.  The online world is so different now.

Today, there are many ways for kids to be online, or to engage in screen time. Parents are left with questions and the challenge of navigating something new.

I thought we should go directly to the source and ask a couple of teens their opinions on screen time: in this case, my teens, ages 13 and 15.

Both of my kids have agreed to an interview for this article so I asked them a few questions about their screen time, and what they think parents should know (and yes, I learned a few things!). 

Teen girl looking at cell phone and smilingWhen I asked both of the kids about their preferred way to enjoy screen time, they had some similarities (playing video games) and yet both had stark differences. The 15-year-old much prefers to watch YouTube or Twitch, or play video games, by himself, while the 13-year-old enjoys watching television and movies (this is where our family’s streaming services get a lot of use) in addition to YouTube. Both enjoy family TV/movie time together (we are a Marvel/Star Wars family!)

Their thoughts about social media proved interesting. Here’s what the 15-year-old had to say:

“I think it is beneficial, but people are very reliant on social media as a whole. I personally think that if it's used right, it can be a very easy way to communicate with different people. But it also has its challenges and its dangers… security issues, lots of potentially dangerous things people could say.”

The 13-year-old doesn’t use social media and I am surprised that they don’t feel like they are missing out given how much we are told kids want to use social. “I mean, I guess it's cool that there's a platform for like, you know, that way you can talk to people that love certain things… but personally I would never want to really get it until I'm way older.”

Two things really stood out for me when I asked each of them about what they want parents, including their own, to know about social media.

The 15-year-old’s response wasn’t completely new, though, as it’s a conversation we’ve often had. They told me: “It isn't all bad. It's something that can be used for good purposes… technology and screen time is becoming more and more popular and outlawing it is definitely not the way to go.”

Meanwhile, the 13-year-old did want to find balance with screen time and likes when some boundaries are in place to help assist them with changing things up. “I mean, it is good if parents do set certain times when you can add screens because it also means that way they can get a break. Then kids can do something active or something like go outside. But then of course the problem with setting certain screen times is that kids might fight back. It would be better if I were to balance it out a little bit better - go outside for like an hour to take a break and read a book for a bit, you know, instead of just being on screens all day long.”

It seems like kids (at least mine) want parents to know that screen time isn’t the worst thing in the world – but there are some limits that benefit everyone.

I appreciate that my kids were willing to share these insights with me (and with you!) as we all try to navigate this new media as best we can.


Related resources: