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.
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About the Author
Carrie James is a Principal Investigator at Project Zero and the author of Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap (MIT Press).
Weinstein’s and James’s work has been covered in Time, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic, and they are sought-after speakers on teens and technology.
Table of Contents
Introduction: What are We Missing? Why Does it Matter? 1
1 Digital Worries in Context 15
2 The Pull of the Screen 31
3 Friendship Dilemmas 53
4 Small Slights, Big Fights 73
5 Nudes (And Why Teens Sext When they Know the Risks) 93
6 The Political is (Inter)Personal-and Vice Versa 115
7 Digital Footprints that (May) Last a Lifetime 137
Conclusion: The Digital Agency Argument 161
Appendix: The Research Behind Behind their Screens 179
What People are Saying About This
“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, Screeangers 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 is 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, Principle 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, co-author of Code for What? Computer Science for Storytelling and Social Justice