“Weinstein and James have nailed it! This book is a superb blend of research and real-life vignettes from teens.”
— Delaney Ruston, MD Filmmaker, "Screenagers"
3500 TEENS ・ 2 RESEARCHERS ・ 1 QUESTION
What are we missing about teens and technology?
Drawing on perspectives from more than 3,500 teens, Harvard Project Zero researchers Emily Weinstein and Carrie James bring stories and data together for a powerful reframe of what teens are up against – and what teens need adults to understand.
We’re worried about teens and their screen time.
But so are they.
“It’s just scary to think that I only get one childhood, and I could accidentally slip into a habit where I just waste it away on some pointless game.”
“I can’t even count how many times I have fallen asleep on TikTok. It has taken over my life.”
“I can’t seem to get off my phone.”
The pull of the screen is strong. For teens, it’s amplified. Behind Their Screens shows adults how to ditch a superficial, “us-versus-them” focus on screen time. Instead, an “us-and-them” approach helps build connection and healthy tech habits.
We fear social media is causing depression.
But understanding both the good and the bad is essential. Teens’ social media experiences differ in key ways, and they aren’t all equally at risk.
“Social media is—in my opinion—a depressant.”
“Social media really does help me.”
“Adults in our lives try to put all of the blame [for] our anxiety and depression on social media alone, and do not try to get us the help we may need.”
“Comparing your social life to others can make you feel excluded and lonely and that can send you down a dark spiral.”
Leaked internal research from Instagram highlights teens’ struggles with social comparison and body image as key mental health issues. Understanding how social media can become like “Comparison Quicksand” for some teens is crucial, even as they flock toward Influencers who eschew the highlight reel in favor of “casual,” “authentic,” and “real” sharing.
We tell teens, “Just don’t sext!”
But this message misses the mark by a mile because it overlooks pressures and motives that are often more weighty.
“I get asked to send nudes a lot and it always makes me uncomfortable.”
“Once you send it once, bruh, they never stop. They literally going to be coming at you back to back to back and forcing you like, ‘yo, I’ma send this out if you don’t send me this.’”
“If it's someone I’m really close to, I don’t want us to just stop being friends because I didn’t send them a [sexy] picture.”
“Maybe they are dating and have lots of trust towards each other.”