What do teens do on their phones? New book explores what ‘adults miss’

Two Harvard researchers have released a new book that explores what “adults” lack about teens’ phone and Use of social media.

Sociologists Emily Weinstein and Carrie James of Harvard Project Zero have studied adolescents and social media for more than a decade. in their own The book was released earlier this month Titled “Behind Their Screens: What Teens Face (And Adults Are Missing)”, the authors explore the various gaps between adults’ understanding of phones and social media versus teenage “reality”.

“We’ve been researching teens and screens for over a decade,” Weinstein told FOX Business in a statement. “We just had a great opportunity to gather insights from over 3,500 teens about how they navigate the digital world and what they would like adults to understand. The ideas they shared and the stories we heard stopped us in our tracks, and we realized we had a treasure trove of data out of children’s mouths.”

All of today’s teens grew up with smartphones and social media while their parents had a childhood that was less tech-heavy. The book aims to help bridge this divide and help adults understand the complex fluctuations of teen phone use.

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Book cover

In “Behind Their Screens: What Teens Face (And Adults Are Missing)”, authors Emily Weinstein and Carrie James explore the various gaps between adults’ understanding of phones and social media versus teenage “facts.” (MIT Press/Fox News)

Behind Their Screens covers topics from online dramas to posting nude or nude photos to the political pressures teens face on social media. Each chapter ends with a section called, “Teens Want Adults to Know,” which includes direct quotes from the teens we polled about what they want adults to know about all the topics covered in the book.

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“We found that teens’ digital experiences are often deeply misunderstood by parents and other adults in their lives,” James said in a statement. “behind their screens It bridges the gap and provides advice to parents on how to give their children the support they really need. We wrote this book to help share teen stories, break myth and reality, and how to have better conversations with the teens in your life.”

Teens’ most common interests regarding smartphones and social media culture include digital footprinting, or the constant flow of information related to their lives online; privacy risks; digital drama and cyberbullying; losing their childhood due to excessive “screen time”; And pressure to keep in touch with others online.

Woman looking at her phone on a bus

Teens worry about digital footprints, privacy, cyberbullying, and screen time. (Richard Baker/Photos/Getty Images)

“It’s scary to think that I’ve only had one childhood, and can accidentally slip into a habit where I get lost in a pointless game,” said a 14-year-old student in response to the authors.

Most teenagers cited the survey TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and Discord As the social media platforms they use most often.

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But while adults often dismiss teens using the phone and social media by telling them to stop using it completely or trying to stop their kids from using certain apps, many teens surveyed in the book say they feel tremendous pressure to gain some kind of online presence. Internet in order to keep pace with peers in an ever-changing digital world.

“Teens wish adults would understand that ‘you can’t always ‘turn off your phone’ and be done with it. “Digital conflicts spread ‘into the real world.’ Response may seem a necessity, particularly when conflicts are taking place in a digital audience and threaten the adolescent’s reputation or relationships,” the authors write.

The girls attended the Madison Beer party in Germany

Teens say they feel tremendous pressure to have some sort of online presence in order to keep up with their peers in an ever-changing digital world. (Adam Perry/Redferns/Getty Images)

But even when teens spend time offline, “there is always a chance that their behavior will be digitally captured by a peer using a smartphone,” Jame sand Weinstein wrote later in the book.

Much of the book covers the political pressures that teens face online. Social media activity has shifted in 2020 as people spend more time online and Black Lives Matter discourse floods Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and other platforms.

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For example, “Blackout Tuesday” was a trend on Instagram that occurred shortly after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 in which users posted black boxes on their accounts acknowledging that they would not be posting their personal content amid the Black Lives Matter movement. Critics of this trend said that the publication of the black box was being felt my performanceOthers said they felt social pressure to publicize the square so that others would not accuse them of silence or complacency.

“Teens feel pressure to signal timely awareness and support for issues on social media and even evidence that they are taking action at a certain level,” the 123-year-old states, but online actions often don’t translate into real life and can leave young people feeling Users struggle on topics “from civic to personal and social”.

Instagram Blackout Tuesday

“Blackout Tuesday” is a trend on Instagram that occurred shortly after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 in which users posted black boxes on their accounts in recognition that they would not be posting their personal content amid Black Lives Matt. (Eric Bardat/AFP/Getty Images)

While adults may consider posting active material on social media to be “optional,” teens feel it has become necessary.

“The breaking news for us in our latest round of research is that avoiding politics is no longer an option,” Weinstein and James wrote. “…This is their world: digital and civic, powerful and stressful, rich in information and misinformation. The character is political on social media.”


Behind Their Screens is a tool for parents to navigate the ups and downs of teen phone use and social media. Many teens who provided responses to the authors said that social media allows them to express their creativity, share common interests with people from all over the world, memorialize happy moments, find useful information about their lifestyles and interests, etc. But teens also want that when it comes to the downsides of social media, adults listen and talk to them about their concerns regarding online drama and social stress rather than simply telling them to remove their phones.

The book is available for purchase on MIT Press or Amazon.

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