Teenagers tend to use media in a different way from adults. Understanding what your child does online will help you guide your child to make sensible choices.
How teenagers use media
Teenagers and adults often use media differently. Adults tend to use the internet to search for information or entertainment, whereas children usually first use the internet for entertainment, often to play online games.
But as they age, children use the internet differently, and more often. Many teenagers use the internet to talk with friends, and to share their ideas and creative outputs. It’s an important way for teenagers to connect with each other, socialise, and feel part of a peer group.
Teenagers are keen creators of content. Many use cameras, mobile phones and computers to upload and share items, such as videos and photos, on the internet. They also spend a lot of time watching content that has been created by other users, rather than the material produced by corporations or network television production companies.
Teenagers also use social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and Snapchat to send and receive messages, and to share photos, videos, games and applications. Teenagers like to use online chat features to make social arrangements, keep in touch with friends and talk about things that are important to them.
Your child might also be writing or reading blogs to express and explore opinions and thoughts on a wide range of topics.
A note on ‘old’ media and ‘new’ media
Traditional media – such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines and books – were once separate sources of entertainment and information. But recently, media sources have combined. Now you can listen to the radio on a mobile phone, or watch TV over the internet on a computer.
Old media sources are ‘one-way’, where information flows in one direction. New media are more interactive. This can be as simple as voting for a participant on a reality TV show by text message, or could involve more complex forms of interaction, such as contributing to an online discussion forum or playing a game with hundreds of people on the internet. Interactive media is engaging – it allows you to participate, contribute and be part of an active audience.
Video Using technology
In this short video, teenagers and their parents talk together about the different ways members of the family use media and technology such as the internet, computers and television. They also discuss the family rules that apply to technology use and screen time.
What teenagers get from media use
Your child is building a sense of culture when he reads books, magazines and online information, or when he watches television or listens to music. He shares that culture with other people his own age. These activities can also increase his understanding of political and community issues.
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 give your child the opportunity to develop skills in reading, writing and critical thinking.
For more information, you can read our article on media benefits
for children of different ages. You’ll also find ideas for helping your child get the most of media.
Common concerns about teenagers and internet use
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 and by:
- talking to her regularly about what she’s doing to keep safe online
- encouraging her to talk to you if she’s having social difficulties
- knowing the policies of your child’s school on cyberbullying and cybersafety.
Too much internet or computer use
Most teenagers don’t find it difficult to stay away from the internet for several days at a time. But too much solitary media use – that is, if your child plays a lot of games online by himself – can lead to him becoming isolated and having less contact with friends and family. It might even aggravate existing attention disorders.
If you’re worried about the amount of time your child spends playing computer games, try the following:
- Ensure your child has lots of opportunities to take part in a wide range of physical and social activities.
- Set reasonable limits on internet or game use with your child, and negotiate consequences for not sticking to these limits.
- Agree on particular times of day that will be game 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, either online or in traditional media. Children with older siblings are more likely to be exposed to content that isn’t appropriate for their developmental stage. This can also be an issue for older children with girlfriends or boyfriends, who might introduce them to content they normally wouldn’t see.
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 her about the kinds of content she comes across
- working with her to help her decide what content is appropriate
- giving her ways of making sense of and dealing with violent or sexually explicit content.
You can also help by observing classification guidelines, and talking with older siblings about what’s appropriate to share with younger siblings.
Effects of media
Teenagers don’t simply take on board everything the media tells them. Their understanding of the content they consume is shaped by a range of other influences, including interactions with peers, parental guidance, family attitudes, the things they learn at school, cultural trends, their personal likes and dislikes, and their sense of place in the world.
In other words, the media is just one part of the process that helps teenagers develop a sense of identity.
You can help your teenager develop a good relationship with media by:
- encouraging him to balance media activities with a range of more physical or social hobbies, such as sport, arts or physically meeting with friends
- encouraging him to engage with a wide range of media and technologies. The more your child is exposed to diverse content, the less likely it is the media will have too much influence over him
- discussing with him the media he’s consuming. Encourage him to think about where the information comes from, and to question the views he comes across. For example, you could think about how television content is packaged, or the difference between .com and .org websites.
Video Using technology: restrictions
In this short video, parents and teenagers together discuss the family rules that apply to technology, media use and screen time. Issues include time restrictions on computer use, trusting teenagers to use the internet responsibly, and privacy issues when using chat rooms and other social media, such as Facebook.
Media use statistics
- The average young person consumes 4 hours and 49 minutes of media in a typical day.
- When it comes to their children, many parents (35%) experience difficulties monitoring at least one of the following – internet and mobile phone use, video and computer game playing, and television viewing.
- More than one in five parents (22%) would like their child to be less involved with electronic media and communications activities.
- On average, young Australians spend 2 hours and 26 minutes watching television, DVDs and downloaded television content in one day.
- Most Australian families (91%) have the internet at home, and 89% of families with children aged 15 years and under have a broadband connection.
- About a third (33%) of young Australians aged 12-14 years spend more than 10 hours on the internet each week.
- Social networking sites are visited by 28% of Australians aged 12-14 years. This rises to 44% for those aged 15-17 years.
- For teenagers aged 12-14 years, 44% of their time on the internet is spent messaging or chatting, 28% of their time is spent visiting social networking sites, and 21% is spent watching or listening to music or video clips.
- Of teenagers aged 15-17 years, 48% of their time on the internet is spent messaging or chatting, 44% of their time is used visiting social networking sites, and 32% is spent watching or listening to music or video clips.
- 72% of 14-year-old Australians have their own material – photos, videos, writing and so on – on the internet. Slightly more (78%) have material online by age 17.
- Three-quarters of young Australians aged 12-14 years, and 90% of those aged 15-17 years, own a mobile phone.
- Australians aged 12-17 years use 71% of their total time on mobile phones texting. The remaining 29% is used on voice calls.
Young people are very good at multitasking and combining media and communication. Many can watch TV, talk or text on the phone, play games and chat to friends online at the same time.