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« Wait two seconds, I have to answer… »: issues and negotiations within families around the socio-digital uses of their teenagers

Nathalie Dupin

Research Framework: The fast and massive arrival of mobile digital technologies has been the subject of much research in the past few years, but the socio-digital uses within families and the upheavals they arouse in relationships between parents and teenagers are little known and poorly documented.

Objectives: This article aims to determine how teenage uses of screens, including cell phones, are negotiated and integrated within families.

Methodology: This qualitative study relies on one hand on individual interviews conducted with fifty-five high school students educated in urban and rural areas, from families belonging to popular, middle and privileged classes. The study is completed by some interviews with middle school students and parents of teenagers. On the other hand, this research relies on a participative observation at Net Ecoute, a national helpline dedicated to the protection of minors on the Internet,

Results: The age at which teens get their first cell phones or smartphones, as well as the associated mobile plans, the socio-digital uses and the connection time, can require intense negotiations within families, even if they are not always obligatory. Connection rules or screen time limitations are sometimes set by parents, more clearly and more frequently in urban and socioculturally more advantaged families. While socio-digital uses may in some cases strengthen family ties, many parents remain worried that their family balance will be disrupted and endangered by the socio-digital uses and the connexion time of their children.

Conclusions: This study shows the importance of considering teenage socio-digital uses in family contexts, and not only in an individual and isolated way, by taking into account only the friendly and cultural spheres. Teenage socio-digital uses are the reflection of the global living environment of teenagers.

Contribution: This article is intended to provide a better understanding of the diversity of teenage socio-digital uses and the associated negotiations. It brings new knowledge on the integration of socio-digital technologies among more or less privileged families living in urban or rural areas.