Behind Their Screens
What Teens Are Facing (and Adults Are Missing)
How teens navigate a networked world and how adults can support them.
What are teens actually doing on their smartphones? Contrary to many adults' assumptions, they are not simply “addicted” to their screens, oblivious to the afterlife of what they post, or missing out on personal connection. They are just trying to navigate a networked world. In Behind Their Screens, Emily Weinstein and Carrie James, Harvard researchers who are experts on teens and technology, explore the complexities that teens face in their digital lives, and suggest that many adult efforts to help—“Get off your phone!” “Just don't sext!”—fall short.
Weinstein and James warn against a single-minded focus by adults on “screen time.” Teens worry about dependence on their devices, but disconnecting means being out of the loop socially, with absence perceived as rudeness or even a failure to be there for a struggling friend. Drawing on a multiyear project that surveyed more than 3,500 teens, the authors explain that young people need empathy, not exasperated eye-rolling. Adults should understand the complicated nature of teens' online life rather than issue commands, and they should normalize—let teens know that their challenges are shared by others—without minimizing or dismissing. Along the way, Weinstein and James describe different kinds of sexting and explain such phenomena as watermarking nudes, comparison quicksand, digital pacifiers, and collecting receipts. Behind Their Screens offers essential reading for any adult who cares about supporting teens in an online world.
“Weinstein and James have nailed it! This book is a superb blend of research and real-life vignettes from teens. It's the perfect vehicle to ensure productive conversations—share tactics rather than scare tactics.”
Delaney Ruston, MD, filmmaker, Screenagers and Screenagers Next Chapter, and author of Parenting in the Screen Age
“Too often we ignore the point of view of teenagers—but not in this book. James and Weinstein have taken youth voices seriously, cutting through myths and offering deep insights for parents, teachers, and scholars.”
John Palfrey, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
“It's such a relief to see a book about screen time that centers young peoples' voices and treats them with respect.”
Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time and reporter for NPR
“Readable, educational, well-balanced, and fun to read! This book walks readers through a complex topic with ease to help every parent, teen, or educator learn about the psychological effects of the world today's teens are immersed within.”
Mitch Prinstein, John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill, and author of Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships
“In their refreshingly constructive book, Weinstein and James integrate digital, developmental, and ecological insights to advocate evidence-based strategies to enhance young people's digital agency.”
Sonia Livingstone, Media@LSE, author of Parenting for a Digital Future
“Many books on teens and screens promote a sense of moral panic. In contrast, Drs. Weinstein and James provide thoughtful and digestible discussion on how adolescents navigate their digital lives, and include youth voices themselves.”
Megan A. Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, Principal Investigator and Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and editor of Technology and Adolescent Mental Health
“A fantastic read! The authors' analysis, at once rigorous and conversational, spoke trenchantly to my overlapping roles of parent, researcher, and media producer. Credit goes to the incredibly thoughtful young people whose stories animate every page.”
Lissa Soep, coauthor of Code for What? Computer Science for Storytelling and Social Justice
“The authors offer advice for parents, emphasizing the need to avoid simplistic solutions, to understand the complexity of the social media environment, and to listen with empathy. For anyone who wants to know where the social media road is leading, this is an important book.”
"The authors' research is impressive...Parents and educators losing sleep over what's happening online would do well to give this a look."
"Because they took so many teen voices into consideration and listened to what real teens had to say about these issues, the authors are able to understand and convey the complexities of teens' digital lives with respect and nuance. The authors actually give teens the credit they deserve instead of assuming teens are blind or naive about screen use and social media...[the book] adds a new and important voice to the conversation around teenagers and the ways we interact with our screens. It's a helpful guide for any parent constantly arguing with their teens about screens, people who feel that social media is “running the new generation” and anyone who wants to know more about how the modern digital age is affecting young people."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Authors Emily Weinstein and Carrie James (both affiliated with the Harvard Graduate School of Education) set out a playbook for empowering kids to use digital tech well, rather than taking away their power so that they can't get into trouble. Weinstein and James conducted extensive research with teens, parents and teachers, and the tactics they suggest are all drawn from real-world successes...Great stuff."