By Raising Children Network
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Most social media sites require users to be at least 13 years old.
Children and teenagers tend to use digital media differently from adults. Understanding what your child views and does online will help you guide your child towards sensible choices about digital media use.

How kids and teenagers use digital media

Digital media is now just a normal part of life. Children and teenagers use the internet for entertainment, communication and learning.

Teenagers tend to be ‘early adopters’ of new devices and technologies. They’re also keen creators of digital content. Many use cameras, mobile phones and computers to upload and share items, such as videos and photos, on the internet. Older teenagers might also be creating or reading blogs and vlogs.

They also spend a lot of time on user-generated content, such as YouTube videos.

Many teenagers use the internet to connect with each other on social networking sites and apps like FacebookTumblr, Snapchat  and Instagram. These social media sites let them send and receive messages, and share photos, videos, games and apps.

Children and teenagers are also using the internet more and more for school and learning. And schools now incorporate digital media into most subjects.

What teenagers get from digital media use

Online activities – such as social networking, participating in online communities and chatting online – connect your child with others. This kind of communication can support your child’s existing friendships by giving her ways to stay in touch with friends after school hours. Strong friendships are important in helping your child adapt to the stresses of adolescence.

Using a range of media gives your child the chance to learn different communication skills. These skills are important at school and work, and in your child’s social life.

Creating content gives your child the chance to work on his creativity in a fun environment. It also gives him opportunities to express his opinions and contribute to debates, which can be important to his sense of self-worth and his sense of community. This can empower him to change his world for the better.

Blogs and online communities give your child the opportunity to develop skills in reading, writing and critical thinking.

Playing video games – including violent games – has many creative, social and emotional benefits. They positively influence young people’s feelings, self-esteem, optimism, vitality, resilience, engagement, relationships, sense of competence, self-acceptance and social connections. And teenagers say they often use games to help them deal with anger, frustration and stress.

Your child can learn about and express her views on personal and community issues that concern her, such as community safety, climate change or relationship problems, through websites, blogs and social networking sites.

Children and teenagers also go online for peer-based or professional support, such as online counselling, because it can sometimes feel easier than talking to someone face to face.

Common concerns about teenagers and digital media

If you stay connected with your child, you’ll be in a good position to pick up on any problems that your child might be having online. Also, if you focus on building an open and trusting relationship with your child, he’s more likely to come to you with problems.

You might be concerned about your child’s safety on the internet. You can help keep your child safe by keeping up to date with the latest technologies and social networking sites.

You can also try the following:

  • Talk to your child regularly about checking privacy settings.
  • Check that your child understands social media guidelines for reporting offensive content.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you if she’s worried about something she’s seen online.
  • Check the policies of your child’s school on cyberbullying and cybersafety.
For more tips on how you can keep your child safe online, you can read our articles about digital citizenship, cyberbullying and sexting.

Too much internet or computer use
Too much time spent playing games online by himself can lead to your child becoming isolated and having less contact with friends and family.

If you’re worried about the amount of time your child spends playing computer games, try the following:

  • Talk with your child about what she’s doing online and find out why it matters to her.
  • Ensure your child has opportunities to take part in a wide range of physical and social activities.
  • Set reasonable limits on online gaming time with your child, and negotiate consequences for not sticking to these limits.
  • Agree on particular times of day that will be internet free.
  • Encourage your child to play online multiplayer games that involve interacting with other people rather than always playing solo games.
Some teenagers might spend a lot of time communicating with friends through online games or social networking sites. This is fine, but it’s a good idea to balance it with face-to-face social activities.

Inappropriate and dangerous content
Your child is likely to be confronted with inappropriate and even dangerous content at some point. Children with older siblings are more likely to be exposed to inappropriate content. Learning to deal with these issues is an important skill for children as they move into adulthood.

You can help your child learn these skills by:

  • talking to him about the kinds of content he comes across online
  • helping him decide what content is appropriate
  • giving him ways to make sense of and deal with upsetting, violent or sexually explicit content.

You can also help by observing classification guidelines, and talking with older siblings (and their friends) about what’s appropriate to share with younger siblings.

Effects of media
Teenagers don’t simply take on board everything the media tells them. Media influence is just one part of the process that helps teenagers develop a sense of identity and guides their attitudes and behaviour.

You can help your teenager develop a good relationship with media by:

  • encouraging her to balance digital media activities with a range of more physical or social hobbies, such as sport, arts or physically meeting with friends
  • encouraging her to engage with a wide range of media and technologies – the more your child is exposed to diverse content, the less likely it is that specific media will have too much influence over her
  • talking with her about the media she’s consuming – encourage her to think about where the information comes from, and to question the views she comes across
  • showing interest in what your child does online and looking for opportunities to do things together – for example, playing online games – or to connect online.
  • Last updated or reviewed 15-06-2015
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Amanda Third, University of Western Sydney, and Ingrid Richardson, Murdoch University.