Adolescents and technology: How family structure changes adolescent digital media use | Media Pyro


Children who live with both parents use social media and digital technology for about two hours less per day than their peers who live in stepfamilies or single-parent families. Family structure can also be an important help or hindrance when it comes to complying with the rules regarding the use of electronic devices.

According to a new report from Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institute and the Institute for Family Studies released Monday, technology compliance rests with parents, but the challenges “may be greater for mothers and fathers in some types of families.” than others.”

Technology is everywhere, but how it’s used can have consequences, experts say, particularly for the mental health of teens and tweens. Depression, for example, is associated with excessive use of social networks.

According to a report titled “Teens and Tech,” young people spend an average of just over 10 hours a day on digital media. This includes social media, gaming, online shopping, video chat and texting, but does not count TV time. The study, which was based on a survey of 1,600 11- to 18-year-olds in grades five and 12, was conducted in May 2022 by Ipsos for two institutes.

While the number of hours young people spend on digital media is an estimate of youth and likely includes multitasking, such as checking texts while doing homework, the number is “staggering,” said Wendy Wang, director of research at the Institute for the Study of Seven and one of the co-authors of the report.

Those teens living with both biological parents spent about nine hours a day on digital media, compared to closer to 11 hours for others. The difference in family structure is especially noticeable when it comes to playtime and texting.

While there are differences in family structure, “virtually all families struggle with technology,” said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of iGen, who is known for her research on children and digital use. media

How teenagers use technology

The report cites data from the Pew Research Center, according to which 95% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 have access to a smartphone. Additionally, between 2009 and 2017, the share of eighth graders using social media increased from 48% to 78%, and the number of hours high schoolers spend online doubled. And despite the ban on social media for teenagers under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, which says that children under 13 cannot access social media, a large number of children under the age of 12 do use social media.

According to the Family Studies/Wheatley survey, 43% of teens in single-parent families said their parents have clear expectations of the media, compared to 35% of single-parent teens and 29% of single-parent teens.

When it comes to who sets the rules for screen and monitor use, 70% said moms do it. This figure is even higher, 80%, in single-parent families and in families with stepfathers.

The report says that parents in stable marriages tend to have more resources and more consistency in their relationships with their children, so they may be more likely to succeed in “directing and limiting technology use.”

The report found that teenagers from single-parent families spent slightly more time on social networks and the Internet than those living in single-parent families. Although the survey did not reveal the reasons, Wang said she suspects that although there are two adults in a family with parents, the relationship is “a little more complicated.” She said the child may be less inclined to listen to the stepfather, and the stepfather may not be able to discipline the stepchild or set limits. “There are probably mixed messages and it’s harder for them to know what to do.”

According to the study, “all of these factors likely play a role in explaining why our most vulnerable youth—those living in single-parent families—spend nearly two hours more screen time per day and are more likely to experience the negative effects of depression , loneliness and more dissatisfaction with life. In this first study to examine how teens use technology and its links to emotional well-being as a function of family structure, those most vulnerable to excessive media use are also the least likely to receive the help needed to regulate their using”.

Adults and even older children can benefit from being on social media, she said. For example, a 16-year-old teenager can be introduced to political activity in practice. Adults can benefit from collaboration — Twenge said that’s how she and one of her co-authors found each other for this study. “But there are no benefits for 10 years,” she added.

“I am most concerned about the mental health problems of this generation – not only emotions, but also thinking. And about the very strong negativity in the country as a whole,” Twenge said. “A lot of it comes from social media — negative, toxic stuff. I think if you put a message on the internet saying that everything is great, no one is going to talk to you.”


Twenge also worries about the “large number of hours” that digital apps take up in children’s lives, creating “less time for sleep, exercise, and face-to-face time with family and friends,” not even considering other potential problems like – that’s how easily adult strangers can communicate with children online, Twenge said.

She told the Deseret News that she was “amazed by the number of fifth-graders and sixth-graders who use social media, even though it’s not allowed for them; they must be 13.”

She noted that many parents are likely to give permission and see social media as a safe place for children to communicate. “It’s probably not true, but of course that’s how it’s advertised.”

Even among children who said their parents told them directly they couldn’t use social media, “a high percentage did it anyway,” Twenge said.

Digital media use is also a problem in some families, with fifteen percent of teens and tweens surveyed saying their parents use their phones or other digital devices “almost all the time” — including when they’re talking to others, at meals, or at work. time for family events. This does not vary much in different family structures. About 14% of teens in single-parent families, 17% of teens in single-parent families, and 12% of teens in single-parent families indicated that their parents use technology a lot.

Wang noted that it may be more difficult for parents to impose limits if they cannot control their own use of digital technology.

Trimming the back

  • Recommendations for reducing the use of digital technologies include:
    Keep electronic devices out of children’s bedrooms after bedtime.
  • Don’t allow anyone under 13 to have social media accounts — and consider putting it off until they’re 16 to 18.
  • Postpone the purchase of a smartphone until the child is 16 or even 18 years old.
  • Set limits on the amount of time a child can spend with digital media.
  • Look for non-digital ways for your children and their friends to interact. “Studies show that real-time communication one-on-one or in small groups (including video chat or during games) is more beneficial than using social media,” the authors of the report wrote.
  • “Unify” with like-minded families.

Wang said she hopes teenagers will become aware of the problems — and the risk — that too much time on digital devices poses. According to her, this report is aimed not only at parents, but also at youth and teenagers. “Some of them are depressed, and I feel like they might be looking for solutions, too.”

Other authors of the study are Janet Erickson, an employee of both institutes and associate professor of the Department of Religious Education and the School of Family Life at BYU; and Brad Wilcox, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.


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