FAMILY DIGITAL WELLNESS GUIDE

Teens –
Young Adults

Ages 13-25

Sections in this Guide

teen with parent posing outside

Science Says...

Teens (13-18)

Adolescence is an active period of change finalizing the shift from childhood to adulthood. Teens are maturing physically, sexually, and cognitively while they also develop more complex and nuanced relationships with peers and seek even greater independence from primary caregivers.

Friends become the predominant connection during adolescence, offering a safe space and emotional independence from parents and other caregivers. Teens form more mature friendships and romantic relationships and they begin to feel a greater need to establish their own sexual identity. Social connectedness is integral to teens’ long term wellness outcomes.

Though their brains haven’t yet achieved the maturity levels of adulthood, teens’ brains become more capable of future thinking and logical problem solving. They are developing more complex understandings of human relationships, emotional nuance, and their own morals and values systems.

As they strike off more independently into the online world, teens need opportunities to take risks with safety nets and to use their caregivers for support and guidance.

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Screens and interactive media form an important part of teens’ social lives, education, and entertainment choices. We recommend that parents talk to their teens often about the experiences they are having and the choices they are making online. Parents should support their teens’ media boundaries and intervene when necessary to help their children stay safe and healthy online while building skills for lifelong digital wellness.

Young Adults (19-25)

As they exit their teen years, young adults begin to take on identities and activities driven by their own interests, instead of those determined by parental authority figures. They may move away from their family home, often to apartments or college settings, as they shift into adult roles, pursuing careers, hobbies, and more emotionally mature platonic and romantic relationships.

Young adults’ relationships with their parents begin to change, taking on a more adult type of relationship, and the influence of the peer group begins to wane, as young people begin to feel more comfortable in their own identities and interests. As they enter their new environments, young adults need to begin building new habits, routines, and support systems and will find themselves in charge of key aspects of the functions of daily life, such as health insurance, financial management, and their own physical safety.

Despite their seeming full independence, young adults still need the support and guidance of their families to navigate the new pressures and decisions of adulthood.

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Though your child is now an adult, they can still benefit from your talking with them about healthy screen management, safety within the online world, and empathic treatment of others online.

Best Practices for
Digital Wellness

TEENS - YOUNG ADULTS

Nearly 100% of teens report having access to a smartphone or home computer, and nearly half of teens report that they are online “almost constantly”. Sixty percent of teens report using computers to do their homework every day. Eighty-four percent of young adults report using social media regularly. Teens and young adults are engaged in a constant and often simultaneous interaction with the online world alongside their “real life” world. We want to support you in empowering your child to maximize the potential benefits of their interactive media and technology use while minimizing the potential harms.

When your teen moves off on his own, he won’t have you to change the wifi password or hide his charger when he needs someone to help him take a screen break. During the teen years, talk with your child about expectations for digital management and help them to create habits around putting away their phone before bed, designing schedules for exercise and other offline time, and identifying focused settings for schoolwork to avoid multitasking with media. These habits will carry into college and independent life when your child gets older.

Sitting down with your teen to craft a media use agreement that addresses everyone’s use of television, tablet, computer, smartphone, gaming, and other devices can set expectations and opportunities for holding one another accountable. It’s important that teens and young adults have input on the agreement and that everyone signs on. 

Research indicates that simpler is better and that keeping the details of the agreement available for frequent reminders may support stronger adherence. By creating a media use agreement as your child grows increasingly independent, you can help them to maintain a healthier, more balanced engagement with the digital world. 

Learn more about how to craft a shared media use agreement here.

Sexting behaviors by adolescents and young adults are correlated with riskier sexual behaviors. The transmission (including the receipt) of sexually explicit texts may be illegal for children under the age of 18 in many states and the sending of sexually explicit photos of minors may be considered sexual exploitation or child pornography under the law. While your teen may trust the person on the other end of the conversation, it’s important that they understand the risks of sexting.

  • Choose a time when you and your child are calm and can focus on the conversation. Sexting is not uncommon among even young teens; keep in mind that this behavior may seem commonplace and safe to your child.

Ask whether they have heard of sexting, been involved in sexting, or been pressured to send a sexually explicit photo or text: “I heard about sexting on the radio today and they said that most kids your age have been asked to share a nude photo of themselves. Has that happened to you? I’m not mad, just curious since this isn’t something we had to deal with when I was a kid.”

  • Share your concerns.
    • “It’s your body and I understand that it might feel unfair that you don’t get to control how it’s viewed. However, once you share a video or picture, it’s out of your hands. How would it feel if the whole school saw a picture of you naked?”
    • “I worry about your future. If you share a nude photo of someone else, you could be in really big legal trouble. Kids like you have been brought to court and have permanent records for sharing someone else’s naked pictures.”
  • Address your child’s interest.
    • “Why do you think it’s important to share nude photos of yourself? I’m wondering what other ways you could show your girlfriend that you care about and trust her.”
    • “Are naked photos helpful for you as you learn more about sex and sexuality? There are resources available that can help you think through these topics in a safer way. I’d be happy to help you find them or find someone who you might be more comfortable talking to about this.”
    • “How does it feel when someone is pressuring you to send photos of yourself? Anytime you’re uncomfortable, if you don’t know how else to get out of the situation, you can always blame me.”

With a greater focus on peer relationships comes increased opportunities for bullying and exclusionary behaviors like ostracism or shunning. Teens can be the victim (one who is bullied), the perpetrator (the one doing the bullying), the bystander (one watching and allowing the bullying to happen), or a combination of all three at different times, yet they often don’t share with their parents when they are being bullied online.

Kids who are bullied online are at greater risk than their peers for depression and anxiety. They may obsessively watch their device, hide it when a parent walks by, withdraw from friends and family, and/or become upset after being online or when asked to get offline.

You should talk with your child on a regular basis about what they are seeing and hearing both online and in person. You can ask them questions such as “Has anything happened online that made you upset?” or “Have you ever witnessed someone being cyberbullied?”.

Report bullying when you hear about it. If your child was doing the bullying, even in retaliation, talk to them about it. Ask what was happening for them at this time, how it felt, how they think it felt for the victim, and what they think they could do to make the situation better for the victim.

Learn more about how to recognize and address cyberbullying here.

As they begin to navigate the online world more independently, teens will be making important decisions every day. Enabling their ability to address problems and make decisions on their own will support your teen’s long-term positive life outcomes.
  • When your child is encountering a problem or decision, online or offline, resist the urge to step in and solve it for them. Instead, ask probing questions to help them to arrive at a solution on their own. What are the potential positive and negative consequences for each possible decision?
  • Talk through your own decision-making processes. If you have a social media account, you can show your child things you’ve posted and why, and whether you received the responses you were hoping for. In the offline world, you can talk about your decision-making around social engagements, work, or even the choice of what to eat.
  • When your child has made a harmful decision, such as saying something hurtful to a friend over text, engaging in a potentially dangerous viral challenge, or sharing an image on social media that they regret, you can ask them calmly why they made the choice they made, what they were hoping to achieve, and what they might do differently next time. If the behavior violated your family’s media use agreement, talk with your child about the consequences you had agreed upon and implement those consequences.
  • Let them make safe mistakes. Video games are one venue to practice making— and rebounding from — mistakes without dangerous consequences. Ask your child what went wrong, what they might do differently next time, and how they could apply this learning to other situations.
Modeling healthy digital media use for your children will go a long way in helping them to develop good habits.
  • Model prosocial behavior for them through your own social media accounts. Avoid making posts that attack others, follow pro-social accounts, and share videos and posts with your child that demonstrate the best parts of human interaction.
  • Demonstrate how intentional, thoughtful use of social media can enable your child’s engagement in their community.
  • Set down your own devices during mealtimes, before bed, and while engaged in conversations. Try to avoid device use during family time, such as when you’re watching a movie together or attending your child’s sporting event.

Many people will begin driving independently by their late teens, around the same age that they gain independent use of their cell phones. Distracted driving is highly dangerous, claiming thousands of lives annually. You can instill safe habits while your child is learning to drive, which will carry him through life:

  • Require that phones be turned off and set out of reach when your child is driving.
  • If she needs her phone to play music, help your child to set up a playlist, set it to play, and place it outside of her reach before she begins to drive.
  • Set expectations that include clear consequences for dangerous behavior behind the wheel. For example, if you learn that your child has been texting while driving, he may lose access to the car keys for a week.
  • Model appropriate and safe behavior. Never text while driving and work to avoid looking at your phone while the car is in motion. When you need to change the playlist, send a text, or make a handheld call, pull over in a safe place and put the car in park before doing so.

Nearly half of young adults – and well over half of adults who identify as LGBTQ – report having used online dating sites or apps. While online dating is prevalent and largely safe, a notable percentage of users report experiencing problematic behavior, such as harassment or threats of physical harm. Potential romantic partners may present themselves as someone they’re not (catfishing) or perpetuate financial scams. Talk with your child about who they are meeting online, how they are confirming that each person is who they say they are, and how they are staying safe when meeting in person.

Most content shared through social media has the potential to reach a large audience, regardless of privacy settings. Talk with your teen about the permanency of the internet and how, once something is shared, they lose control of that message or image. Sit down with your teen to walk through the privacy settings on each of their accounts and “friend” them on their social media accounts. Ask before you post about your teen online; no matter how proud you are of them, they have a right to control how their image and information is shared online, even by their parents.

Advertising, product placement, and influencer marketing can greatly affect teens’ attitudes and behaviors regarding their health and wellbeing. As teens and young adults develop their own sets of beliefs and values, these influences can be particularly important.

  • Ask your child to show you some of the influencers they follow on social media. Ask them what they like about each and what they think that person or company is trying to get them to think or do.
  • Talk about news items with your teen and ask them what they think about them. Might there be other perspectives on each event? What might the news writer be wanting them to think and why? What does your teen believe about the event?
  • Look at photos of celebrities and others online and ask your child how realistic the images seem. Ask whether they know anyone who looks like that, what it might take to look like that, and whether they believe the person looks like their photo in real life. Discuss your child’s ideas about beauty and ideal bodies and how they developed these concepts.

Teens and young adults need 8-10 hours of sleep each night to maintain their health and wellbeing. Screen media use in adolescence is associated with taking longer to fall asleep, getting less sleep, and experiencing more sleep disruptions. Support your teen in setting a regular and consistent bedtime and provide a space away from their bedroom where they can set all devices overnight. Provide your teen with an alarm clock so he doesn’t have a need to keep his phone in his room.

Additional Resources

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