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Kids & Screen Time: the 5 C's Questions for Older Teens

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The older teen years (ages 15 to 17) are a time of growing independence and sense of self. Peer groups become more important than ever during this stage. Media use can be one way that teens explore themselves and others as a healthy and normal part of adolescent development. Peer relationships may also endure rocky times that can be amplified online.

Teens often want to feel a sense of control in their lives, which can lead to more arguments with parents and caregivers. However, they still need you to be a reliable, consistent and understanding presence in their lives.

Monitor your teen's media use and have open-minded, ongoing and caring conversations. Give more independence as your teen shows more responsibility. Use the 5 C's questions for parents of older teens as an easy-to-remember guide.

What are the 5 C's?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health developed the 5 C's as an age-by-age guide to parenting around media and building healthy digital habits as your child grows. See "Kids & Screens: How to Use the 5 C's of Media Guidance."

5 C's questions for parents of older teens to ask

1. Child

Who is your child, how do they react to media and what is their motivation for using it?

Make sure your teen knows that you want to understand them. Parents can support their teens by checking in on how they are feeling, how things are going with friends, and whether they want to share any challenges or successes.

If your child shares a recent conflict with friends, listen and ask questions to support them, such as "How did you feel?" or "What did you learn from that?" Avoid overly simplistic solutions, such as "Well let's take your phone away then."

If your child made a mistake in a situation, let them know you support them. Assure them that everyone makes mistakes, and that they can be valuable learning opportunities. Support their personal reflections about their online and offline relationships and experiences.

2. Content

What is worth their attention?

The teen years are also a time in which youth have more choices and independence around the media content they choose. Teens may get exposed to content that is quite different than what they had seen as a child, and they may be unsure of how to think about it.

On social media, content by other users is generally unrated or unreviewed, so it can range from silly to dangerous. Social media algorithms (programmed rules that decide how content is sorted and recommended to users) decide what shows up in feeds, for better or worse. Help your child process and think through experiences with outrageous, false or mean videos.

As teens are becoming more independent, help them develop digital literacy skills. Talk about viral social media challenges and other more risky behaviors. Encourage them to have more control over the content that they see on their feeds by managing their algorithms. They can do this using the "I'm not interested" button, word-based content filters, and/or turning off algorithm-recommended content.

3. Calm

How do they calm their emotions or go to sleep?

You can support your child by helping them to develop healthy calming strategies. Examples include talking to trusted friends and family members, mind-body exercises and immersing themself in experiences that they find helpful and thought-expanding (reading or music or art). Other great ways to calm down include taking a walk, creating their own content, playing with pets or engaging in volunteer work to help others.

If teens have depression or anxiety symptoms and struggle to use coping strategies, talk with their doctor about getting more support.

AVOID having phones and gaming devices in the bedroom at night, which is linked with poor sleep. This can be challenging for older teens, so plugging the phone in across the room (if they use it as an alarm) may be helpful.

4. Crowding Out

What does media get in the way of?

Phone and social media use can interrupt times when teens want to concentrate, such as during class or homework. Talk through strategies such as using "do-not-disturb" or "focus mode" during these times so they are in control of when devices grab their attention.

Checking back with your teen to see how those strategies are working. This helps it become an ongoing conversation and support rather than a one-time effort. Suggest device-free times during car rides and mealtimes, so that your teen has your full attention.

Adequate sleep can be challenging for teens; help your child build a sleep routine and plan for how to ensure media doesn't delay or interrupt sleep. Be aware of problematic media use, which is when media use is compulsive, interferes with friendships or leads to frequent arguments.

5. Communication

How can you talk about media to raise a smart and responsible child?

Start conversations with open-minded questions (What's this like for you? What do you think of…?). You can help put your child at ease by talking about your own stresses with social media. Consider asking for feedback on how you as a parent are managing your device use when around the family to make it an open sharing opportunity. Watch shows and movies together—these can be great conversation starters for topics like substance use, romantic relationships or other challenging topics.

To download a PDF version of these tips, tap here.

Make a media plan for the whole family (parents too!)

Parents can support teens by reviewing the Family Media Plan and including teen input on what rules the family will focus on. Ensure that adults follow the rules as well, as teens at this phase are fine-tuned to recognize adults who fall into the "Do as I say not as I do" rule-making approach.

More information

Editor's note: The 5 C's were inspired and built upon the "3 C's advice about kids and screens" developed years ago by education expert and author Lisa Guernsey.

Funding for the AAP Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health was made possible by Grant No. SM087180 from SAMHSA of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, SAMHSA/HHS or the U.S. Government.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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