In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adolescence and the Media

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews/Handbooks
  • Encyclopedias
  • Journals
  • Media Usage
  • Media, Adolescents, and Family Life/Family Involvement
  • Safety in Cyberspace
  • Advocacy Groups and Policy/Guidelines to Protect Adolescents

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Adolescence and the Media
Thomas Frissen, Steven Eggermont
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0101


Media are an influential factor in the lives of today’s adolescents. Entertainment and information via television screens, video games, tablets, and other mobile media seize a significant amount of youth’s time in everyday life. Recent statistics indicated that the current-generation adolescents are exposed to media for an average of more than eleven hours per day (Rideout, et al. 2010, cited under General Overviews/Handbooks). The ubiquity of media may play a crucial role in how adolescents develop both socially and psychologically. Research has suggested that media affect how adolescents perceive their social world, how they evaluate their parents and peers, and how they identify themselves and see their own appearance. However, there does not really exist a univocal definition of adolescence. Instead, definitions vary between disciplines and cultures. Since the substantial part of the research on adolescents and media stems from psychological and sociological research traditions, this article follows the definition of adolescence as provided in the Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents and the Media, edited by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, et al. (Arnett, et al. 2007, cited under Encyclopedias). Adolescence is then defined by average pubertal timing for boys and girls and ranges from approximately ten to eighteen years old. Then as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood, adolescence is characterized by a pursuit for personal identity, a striving for autonomy, and a struggle for independence from parental/educators’ control. This development makes adolescents’’ values, attitudes, and norms easily malleable. In their preparation for adult roles and behavior, adolescents are especially vigilant for and vulnerable to external influences, such as peer evaluations and conforming to (gender) stereotypical behavior or social-cultural norms. For these aspects, the media function as an important beacon. For instance, traditional media (e.g., television shows) provide adolescents with “scripts” about how adults are supposed to act; media portray, for instance, the “norms” of conflict resolutions, not uncommonly in a context of violence and aggression; and media teach them about gender roles, stereotypical behavior, and sexual gratification. In addition, new media allow adolescents to communicate in a more self-directed way with friends and peers, while transcending the boundaries of parental authority. Also, mobile media enable adolescents to communicate in freedom from a specific context and without the constraints dictated by any family member. Not surprisingly, considerable academic effort has been devoted to exploring the media’s influence on adolescents’ development. This article aims to give an overview of the key research in this area, with a sharp focus on the developmental changes that adolescents undergo and how media and communication technology influence these changes. It is important to note here that the dominant center of attention within the academic field is structurally biased toward potential negative or worrisome consequences of media on adolescents. This article tries to provide a balanced though representative overview of the current status quaestionis of the arena.

General Overviews/Handbooks

Research on the relationship between adolescents’ development and the media is by no means recent. In the early part of the 20th century, comic books were criticized as an influential medium that might have a harmful impact on children and adolescents. Next, with the rise of television, the criticism shifted to this new medium, and only recently, the Internet and its endless possibilities have been condemned as an equally possible threat for young users. In the long tradition of research on this subject, the focus has often been specifically on the youth development perspective, including both childhood and adolescence. As a consequence, the majority of the general overviews and handbooks on media use and its effects discuss both life stages. However, the fundamental works cited in this section all particularly provide an in-depth overview of media and adolescents’ development (e.g., with topics such as sexual development and gender identification). For instance, Strasburger, et al. 2014 provides a comprehensive and broad overview of how adolescents interact with all sorts of contemporary media. In a similar vein, Lemish 2013 provides an exhaustive overarching overview with adolescents both as audiences of and participants in media making. In contrast to these broad overviews, and from a more interdisciplinary angle, Calvert and Wilson 2011 dives more deeply into the developmental consequences of media in adolescents’ lives. Even more specific and detailed is Strasburger 1995, which focuses solely on the psychological impact of the media on adolescents’ development. The author brings a review of research findings on violence, sexual activity, and substance abuse, among other topics. Additionally, Roberts, et al. 2009 comprehensively discusses contextual influences of the media on adolescents’ development. As opposed to the research focus on the media’s influences, Rideout, et al. 2010 provides a comprehensive and empirically underpinned report on the usage patterns of adolescents in the United States. Finally, adolescents’ media usage is also viewed from a legal point of view in Levesque 2007, which discusses developmental research of media influences on adolescents’ behavior, legislations for regulating youth’s media use, and the “free speech” rights of adolescents according to law.

  • Calvert, Sandra L., and Barbara J. Wilson. 2011. The handbook of children, media and development. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    A full overview of the empirical research on media, media policies, and developmental aspects. The merit of this handbook is that it effectively brings together a broad body of interdisciplinary knowledge. Well organized in six parts, one per discipline: e.g., media access and differential use patterns (communication), social effects (psychology), cognitive effects (developmental science), health effects of the media (medicine), media policy and intervention (law) alongside a historical discussion of youngsters’ media use.

  • Lemish, Dafna. 2013. The Routledge international handbook of children, adolescents and media. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    An overarching perspective on the topic, with adolescents both as audiences and participants in media making. As opposed to the other handbooks, this work uniquely synthesizes a cultural perspective with a psychological-consequences perspective. An exhaustive and adequate guide for (under)graduate students dealing with communication, media culture, and adolescents’ development.

  • Levesque, Roger J. R. 2007. Adolescents, media, and the law: What developmental science reveals and free speech requires. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195320442.001.0001

    Provides an advanced overview of research findings that combines developmental scientific research with legal foundations. Deals with empirical evidence of media effects on adolescents’ behavior in association with their fundamental rights (e.g., “free speech”), as a basis for legal regulations and legislations of media policies directed to protect adolescents.

  • Rideout, Victoria J., Ulla G. Foehr, and Donald F. Roberts. 2010. Generation M²: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation.

    Essential for accurate descriptive statistics of adolescents’ media use in the United States, presenting exhaustive empirical data on media consumption and media ownership on the basis of large-scale survey research by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Findings are clearly separated according to age. Logically structured on basis of media type (e.g., cell phones, video games).

  • Roberts, Donald F., Lisa Henriksen, and Ulla G. Foehr. 2009. Adolescence, adolescents, and media. In Handbook of adolescent psychology. Vol. 2, Contextual influences on adolescent development. 3d ed. Edited by Richard M. Lerner and Laurence Steinberg, 314–344. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    This second volume deals with contextual influences on adolescent development, in which media are given an important position. Chapter 9 is a compact though notably comprehensive overview on adolescence and media. Wide ranging and carefully written, from a critical psychological perspective.

  • Strasburger, Victor C. 1995. Adolescents and the media: Medical and psychological impact. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Older but definitely not outdated. Complete overview of psychological consequences of the use of traditional media on adolescents’ psychological development. Covering all major topics such as aggressive behavior, sexuality, drugs and alcohol use, and nutrition. Written for both an academic and non-academic audience: slim, vivid, comprehensible, and to the point.

  • Strasburger, Victor C., Barbara J. Wilson, and Amy B. Jordan. 2014. Children, adolescents and the media. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A detailed synthesis of developmental research on how media affect the lives of adolescents. It focuses on how adolescents in different developmental stages interact with media. An indispensable reference work for (under)graduate students of, for instance, psychology or communication (majoring in, e.g., child development, consumer psychology and media effects). Clearly written and logically structured.

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