TEC Center at Erikson Institute

The TEC Center is dedicated to answering research questions that inform theory and support parents, practitioners, educators, librarians, and media developers in making the best possible media decisions for and with their children. ConTEXT is a focus group that led to the creation of text message challenges to help parents and kids have positive and productive conversations about tech use.

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The Project

TEC Center at Erikson Institute launched a two-year pilot research and development project that empowers adolescent youth to help each other use digital technology in healthy and productive ways. 

First, a group of junior and senior high school students designed, conducted, and analyzed a national survey to understand and document the positive and negative ways youth use, experience, and understand digital technology. Additionally, this cohort of students met bi-weekly and completed in-depth modules and virtual synchronous discussions to understand research design and technology use.

From these research results, the team of students and researchers developed a research-informed text message intervention program to build connections between parents and tweens around healthy technology use. This text message program, ConTEXT, sent tech use challenges via a text to parent and middle schooler dyads in order to facilitate productive conversations around tech use and effects. Challenges were sent twice a week for 12 weeks. Two cohorts completed the program and surveys were taken pre, mid, and post-intervention to evaluate effectiveness.

Key Insights

  • Youth voice is powerful & critical to listen to, especially within design.
  • Adolescents have “layers” (e.g., they are intentional about their technology use and they understand the risks at least on the surface.)
  • Young people need conversation, reflection, support, and social engagement. Social media can only provide some of that.
  • Lean into a pivot (program came out stronger after changing the project due to teen concern and pandemic.)
  • It takes time to get authentic youth voice and must be done through trusted relationships, honest investment, and transparency.
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TEC Center at Erikson Institute

Digital Well-Being Activity & Conversation Prompts

Highlighted in this resource are a few of the activities and discussion prompts that you can use to start a conversation in your classroom, after-school program or at home.

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