George Lucas Educational Foundation
Media Literacy

10 Takeaways From Teens on Digital Media

When asked about living on social media, teens seek parental guidance while dreading embarrassment, crave closeness while preserving individuality, and try balancing pressure and silliness.

November 7, 2014

At the Digital Youth Think Tank held at the University of Washington iSchool on October 16-17, a panel of teens spoke honestly and candidly about their digital lives. One audience member tweeted, "God I love the honesty of teens." Another tweeted, "Amazing youth sharing their digital lives." Yet another posted, "Nice to hear people are asking & listening to #teens. They have great insight."

At the conclusion of the panel, one teen commented that she was amazed to see people taking notes, that they'd listened to what she had to say, and that they'd even tweeted her comments. It was empowering for these teens to be heard and validated, and more amazing still, that they were being held up as experts on how youth are using digital media, even though, as this teen explained, "It's just what kids do."

In this post, inspired by my experience at the Digital Youth Think Tank, I'd like to share ten takeaways from teens:

1. Their parents embarrass them online. . .

One teen shared that her mother posts pictures of chickens six times a day. The teen was horrified and made the point that you are only supposed to post at most once a day on Instagram, and not pictures of chickens!

2. . . . Yet teens appreciate when their parents help to set norms at home.

Emily Calkins tweets: "Teen talks about how rules made at home help establish norms (i.e. rude to use tech during meals) #dystt14." Parents should not abdicate their authority when it comes to tech. Instead, they should be talking with kids about what is acceptable behavior.

3. Overscheduled teens need and want to connect with their friends.

Not surprisingly, social media facilitates this. Lisa Jordan tweets: "Teen feels over scheduled and wouldn't be able to communicate with friends as much without social media. #dystt14."

4. We live in a global community. . .

Emily Calkins tweets: "Foreign-born kids use Facebook to connect with family around the world #dystt14." Social media can bring global family closer together.

5. . . . Yet social media can drive a wedge between teens and parents.

Nicole Ellison tweets: "Tech brings teen closer to her friends but more distant from her family. As mom of teen, I relate #dystt14."

6. Teens like to have down time and be silly.

Lisa Jordan tweets: "That teen also enjoys watching a dog get vacuumed. @ teen panel #dystt14." Sarita Y Schoenebeck ‏tweets: "I like watching mind numbing stuff on the Internet too #dystt14."

7. Teens are the best "lame detectors."

Emily Calkins tweets the comments of one teen panelist: "I don't have an Instagram and I could NEVER get one now. It'd be like getting a Facebook now #dystt14." Nicole Ellison tweets: "Better to be a tech abstainer than a late adopter #dystt14." Kids know what's in and what's out.

8. Teens know how to code switch.

Think Tank organizer Katie Davis tweets: "Different social media platforms have different norms for posting, youth say #dystt14." Shannon Peterson tweets: "Teen panel: Levels of formality in positing or starting on diff social media outlets. Lots of strategy involved! #dystt14."

9. Diversity of perspective matters to teens.

Emily Calkins tweets: "Being able to see other people's opinions besides your parents' on the internet is important. Yes! Intellectual freedom! #dystt14." Nicole Ellison tweets: "Teen talks how tech enables her to connect with people who have diverse opinions & diff information. Bridging social capital FTW! #dystt14"

10. Teens feel a lot of pressure online.

Linda W Braun ‏tweets: "Read receipts are high pressure and sound surprisingly Edwardian in teen land. #dystt14." Sara Evans tweets: "Teen panel: Read receipts are a big deal and when someone reads or responds impacts relationships. #dystt14."

What do you think you'd you hear from teens if you asked them about social media use? When was the last time you asked them?

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  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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