Today’s youth are now more than ever using a wide variety of screen-based media sources, such as TV, video games, and the Internet. Recent research has found that over 90% of youth between the ages of 12 to 17 use the Internet, and a vast majority have access to their own cellphones, TV, computers, and/or video game consoles (Jones & Fox, 2009; Strasburger, Jordan, & Donnerstein, 2010). Perhaps more importantly, research has found that children and adolescents are spending a substantial amount of time using screen-based media, engaging in media use more than they do in any other activity other than sleeping (Strasburger et al., 2010). In particular, use of social media sources, such as Facebook, Instagram, email, or chatting, is especially popular among today’s youth who use these outlets to communicate and socialize with their peers.

Like their typically developing peers, students with disabilities also enjoy using screen-based media. In the largest study examining use of screen-based media in students with disabilities to date, researchers analyzed data on more than 1,000 special education students diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), cognitive impairment, speech/language impairment, or learning disability between the ages of 13 and 16 (Mazurek, Shattuck, Wagner, & Cooper, 2012). They found that 64% of adolescents with ASD spent the majority of their free time engaging in non-social media-based activities (such as watching TV and playing video or computer games), while students with other disabilities were almost two times more likely to use social media sources.

These findings are important and suggest that media use may vary between children and adolescents with different interests, strengths, and challenges. However, there are a variety of things that parents can do to promote healthy use of media and facilitate positive outcomes on adolescents’ development and well-being.

Practical Suggestions

  • Families can explore and engage in media use together. Watching a movie or playing a game together can increase opportunities for face-to-face social interactions. Research has shown that adolescents with ASD who watched TV with their parents reported more positive parent–child relationships (Kuo, Orsmond, Coster, & Cohn, 2014). Parents of typically developing adolescents and youth with other disabilities may also find positive social benefits of engaging in media use with their kids.
  • Engaging in open discussions about certain media sources can be a valuable educational experience for children and adolescents. Research has suggested that some media activities can provide educational value, teaching and promoting things like antiviolence attitudes, empathy, and tolerance for diversity (Strasburger et al., 2010). Children and adolescents should also be encouraged to take an active learning role by critically analyzing what they see in the media.
  • Similarly, engaging in open discussions about the safety of media use is important. Parents can encourage the use of social media sources to communicate with close friends and family. Research has shown that adolescents with ASD who emailed or visited social media sites more frequently reported more positive and stable friendships (Kuo et al., 2014). Research on typically developing adolescents has also shown that those who spent more time communicating with known friends and family members, rather than strangers, tended to have better social relationships (Kuo et al., 2014).
  • Placing TVs, computers, and video game equipment in a central location, such as the living room instead of a child’s bedroom, can help limit the amount of time spent using media sources. Research has shown that placing a TV in a child’s bedroom can increase TV-watching up to 2 hours per day (Jordan, Bleakley, Manganello, Hennessy, Stevens, & Fishbein, 2010). Families may want to consider placing media sources in a common area with shared access.
  • Parents can establish house rules to limit the time children and adolescents can spend using screen-based media each day. Kids can be included in this rule-making process by being allowed to make choices about their media-based activities, within appropriate time constraints. Parents should praise their children for making good and appropriate choices regarding media use.

-Jones, S. & Fox, S. Generations Online in 2009. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center; 2009.
-Available at: Accessed June 2, 2015.
-Jordan, A., Bleakley, A., Manganello, J., Hennessy, M., Stevens, R., & Fishbein, M. (2010). The role of television access in viewing time of U.S. adolescents. Journal of Children and Media, 4(4), 355-370. doi: 10.1080/17482798.2010.510004.
-Kuo, M. H., Orsmond, G. I., Coster, W. J., & Cohn, E. S. (2014). Media use among adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 18(8), 914-923. Retrieved from
-Strasburger, V. C., Jordan, A. B., & Donnerstein, E. (2010). Health effects of media on children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 125(4), 756-767. doi: