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Kids & Screen Time: The 5 C's Questions for Young Teens

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The early tweens and teens (ages 10 to 14 years) are a time of growing independence, exploring identity and building a solid sense of self. During this phase, adolescents place increased importance on relationships with peers. This can feel to parents like they are losing connection.

Puberty brings changing bodies, strong emotions and comparisons with other kids. Young teens are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit. A central question during early adolescence is "Am I normal?"

This phase of development is also when adolescents can feel that they are "on stage," with everyone is looking at them. Small social missteps either online or offline can feel devastating to them. It's an important time to establish regular conversations about their digital lives—who they are and what they interact with online.

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 teens and tweens

Ask yourself these questions.

1. Child

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

To understand your child's unique digital life, and how they are navigating their experiences, listening is crucial. This means being present with your child and available in moments they are ready to share. It also may mean putting away your own phone—even in brief moments like car rides. You'll get insight into how they are coping with school, friends, mood, bullying or stress about world news.

Remember that comparing themselves to who they see in media is a developmentally normal activity. Reassure your child that everyone's body and journey through puberty is unique, and that there is no single ideal body type online or offline.

2. Content

What is worth their attention?

Use Common Sense Media to check ratings and reviews of video games, movies, apps and TV. Pick ones with positive social and identity messages. In this age range, you may want to ask your child to be part of this process.

Social media accounts technically can't be created until kids are 13, so encourage kids not to lie about their age. Help them find alternates like messaging apps (such as iMessage, Messenger Kids or Kinzoo).

For young teens using social media, talk about the fact that inappropriate content might be recommended to them or appear in their feeds. Help them recognize false or mean videos or idealized body images.

In this time of growing exploration and independence, adolescents may be more likely to explore dangerous or inappropriate content. Questions like "Have you seen anything lately that seemed weird or scary?" may lead your child to open up.

3. Calm

How do they calm their emotions or go to sleep?

The early teens years often include a wide range of emotions. Because devices and video games are such an easy distraction, many teens say they use them to escape negative feelings.

Support your child in exploring other healthy coping strategies. Examples include talking to trusted friends and family members, mind-body exercises, deep breathing, taking a walk, creating art or music and playing with pets. If you are concerned about how your child is coping, talk with your child's pediatrician about finding a therapist.

AVOID having phones and gaming devices in the bedroom at night, which are linked with poor sleep.

4. Crowding Out

What does media get in the way of?

If your child has a phone, teach them to set "do-not-disturb" or "focus mode" during school, homework and bedtimes. This helps them stay in control of when devices grab their attention. Set device-free times such as car rides and mealtimes, so that your teen has your full attention.

Sleep is critical during the early teen years, ensure your child's media use doesn't disrupt or disturb them during the night. Be aware of problematic media use, which occurs when media use is compulsive, interferes with friendships or leads to frequent arguments.

5. Communication

How can you talk about media to raise a media savvy, responsible child?

Early teens often fear that sharing media-related challenges will lead their parents to take their devices away. Listen and provide support when kids are distressed due to small social missteps. Start conversations with open-minded questions (What's this like for you? What do you think of…?) and put them at ease by talking about your own stresses with social media.

Have check-ins with your child about how they are feeling navigating their peer relationships online and offline. Do they feel safe? Supported? What has been enjoyable? What has been challenging? How are they navigating technology use for connection and communication?

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

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

During early adolescence, it's essential to involve your child in choosing and implementing rules to empower their sense of ownership. Parents can support tweens and teens by reviewing the AAP family media plan and including their input on what rules the family will focus on.

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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