Teens, Tweens, and Screens: How to Help Your Kids Navigate Life Online

Did you know that children, on average, get their first smartphones by age 10? Yes, kids are getting their devices earlier and using them more often than ever before. Recent research has shown that tweens spend six hours a day on entertainment, including online time. And teens spend, on average, nine hours a day on entertainment, including computer and tablet time.

Additionally, 39% of kids get a social media account as early as 11.4 years, and 24% of kids now have “private” Internet access from their bedrooms (compared to 15% in 2012).

Concerned? You should be. But take heart: when parents become involved with kids’ media lives, kids consume less and understand more of what they consume. Further, kids are able to learn and distinguish between what is helpful, unhelpful and potentially dangerous. Think of it this way: Just as parents have the big “Talk” with kids about the birds and the bees, parents can help teens and tweens navigate the challenges of their wired worlds with a “Social Media Talk.”

From Tweens to Teens—Shifting Parental Concerns

Tweens are growing at a pace they often don’t understand. While they are still mostly family-focused and look to parents first for guidance, they are beginning to compare themselves to other kids and developing peer groups.

Not surprisingly, the tween years (defined as between 10-12 years old) can be challenging. Their bodies are changing, along with social status. Developmentally, they are moving from one or two friends to a group dynamic. A normal part of this development involves online video gaming, a popular activity for tweens.

As tweens become teens, they shift from playing games online to instant messaging (IM), texting, sharing selfie pics, and creating an online presence on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and other social networks. This allows them to connect with an even greater circle of friends.

At this time, parents’ fear for tweens—“What are they being exposed to?”—shifts to “What are they exposing?” for teens. Parents must watch for red flags, including a teen who is always on the computer, no longer wants to join the family, has few real-life friends and doesn’t want to go outdoors. At the least, these red flags may signal your tween is growing isolated, and missing out on a dynamic life of activities, clubs and other interests. It may signal a growing social anxiety and depression. Parents can help their kids achieve a healthy life in balance with both intellectual stimulation and physical activity.

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Learn More

Having the Social Media “Talk”: Parents can help teens and tweens navigate social media with an “Social Media Talk” that helps their kids understand how to create and maintain a healthy context for their digital lives.

Seven Actions to Help Kids Navigate Life Online: How to continue supporting a teen or tween after the Social Media “Talk”.

No Blame, No Shame

The key to successfully navigating teens, tweens, and screens is maintaining an ongoing dialogue. Want to know what your kids are doing online? Have a seat next to them. And remember that if your tween or teen has chosen to share with you in a first conversation, buckle up, because you can’t show fear, blame or shame. Prepare to be your best self and to listen keenly, or there might not be a second conversation.

Still have questions?

Our experts are available for conversations. It’s all part of The Jewish Board’s continuum of care to help ensure that New Yorkers don’t have to navigate life’s difficulties alone. For more information, email us at hello@jbfcs.org.