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7 December 2017

What do Tweens Think About Their Parents’ Media Rules?

Keywords: computer, gaming, media, parents, survey, teens, tweens, North America, family communication, family conflict, focus groups, internet, parent-child relationship,

Tweens’ cell phone use and gaming are well-known sources of family conflict. To regulate their child’s media use, most parents set media rules. However, these rules often do not correspond to the way in which tweens use media platforms, a study in the Journal of Children and Media shows.

Take aways

  • Tweens often have different ideas than their parents about the function and significance of media use.
  • The media rules that parents set do not always fit with the way in which tweens use media.
  • This misfit can result in media-related conflict between parents and their tween.
  • Parents who want to minimize media-related arguments, could try to get more insights into their tweens’ media use, for example by asking their tween about their favorite app or video game.

Study information

  • The question?

    How do tweens describe their media use, their parents’ view on media use, and their parents’ media rules?

  • Who?

    79 (survey; 52% boys) and 30 tweens (focus groups; 50% boys) aged 11 to 14 years old

  • Where?

    Northwest United States

  • How?

    The survey used in this study was designed by tweens as part of a technology class. Together with their teacher, tweens came up with questions about their own media use, their parents’ view on media use, and their parents’ media rules. This survey was then sent out online to all tweens who took the technology class. Two weeks after they completed the survey, a subset of tweens participated in focus groups (two groups in total, each with 15 participants). In the focus group discussions, they described the answers they gave in the survey in more detail.

Facts and findings

Cell phone use



  • Most tweens had a cell phone so that they could check in with their parents when they were away from home.
  • Although tweens did use their phones to do so, they more often used it for other activities (see Figure 1).
  • The rules that parents set about cell phone use were mostly about when and how often tweens could use their phone, with the most common rule being ‘no phones at night’.
  • However, most parents did not have rules about what tweens could do on their phones, indicating that they did not fully understand what it is that tweens do on their phone.
  • This lack of understanding often resulted in parental rules that did not correspond to tweens’ actual media use.
  • For example, the majority of parents had the rule not to talk to strangers, whereas tweens said they primarily used their phone to connect with people they already knew.




  • This misfit between parents’ rules and tweens’ actual media use was also seen with regard to gaming.
  • Tweens said their parents assumed they were playing games whenever they were on the computer, which was not always the case.
  • When tweens were gaming, parents did not see the same benefits of playing games as they did.
  • This misassumption and the differences in perception about gaming often led to parent-tween conflict.
  • However, conflicts around gaming decreased when parents knew more about the games tweens played, particularly if parents tried the games themselves.
  • Critical note: As this was an exploratory study, a limited number of tweens participated in the survey and focus groups. Also, participating tweens mostly came from high-income families. It is uncertain whether the findings hold for all tweens.