Harvard researchers Emily Weinstein and Carrie James explore 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.
“The data offer an incredible window into different pain points and puzzles of teens’ experiences,” the authors write. “Our aim is not simply to know what they see on their screens, but also to see it as they do. This positions us to have their backs, rather than just looking over their shoulders.”
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.
Behind Their Screens in the media:
- Weinstein and James were interviewed for a parenting segment on NBC’s Today Show.
Is there a ‘right age’ to give your child a phone?
- Slate’s Mom and Dad Are Fighting podcast interviewed the authors to debunk myths about teen cell phone use.
Behind Their Screens
- An excerpt from Behind Their Screens appeared in Wired, urging adults to focus on judgment and agency rather than screen time when discussing teens’ digital lives.
What adults don’t get about teens and digital life
- The authors wrote an op-ed for The Boston Globe and argued that parents need new talking points when having conversations with their teens.
What we get wrong about teens and screens
- Emily Weinstein was interviewed for the Marketplace podcast to discuss the book and their research.
What adults are missing about teens and screens
- The authors wrote a piece for Time.com about teen friendships.
Social Media Has Made Teen Friendships More Stressful
- A review of the book appeared in San Francisco Chronicle, calling Behind Their Screens “a helpful guide.”
Review: Ever wonder why teens can’t resist the pull of their screens? They tell you in this book
- AARP Magazine mentioned the book in an article about how adults can help teenagers stay safe and protect their identities online.
Help your teen avoid online scams and identity theft
- The New York Post did a write-up on Behind Their Screens about teenagers and sexting.
Why teen boys and girls will sext no matter what you tell them
- Publishers Weekly reviewed the book and wrote that “parents and educators losing sleep over what’s happening online would do well to give this a look.”
Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing (and Adults Are Missing)