U.S. teenagers use screens an average of more than seven hours a day
U.S. teens spend an average of more than seven hours a day on screen entertainment, and tweens spend nearly five hours a day, according to a new report – not counting the time they spend on screens for school and homework.
Among teenagers, the time spent on multiple individual screen activities has increased by 42 minutes a day since 2015, the report said. Nearly 62% spend more than four hours a day using screen media and 29% use screens more than eight hours a day, according to a report from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that helps children, parents, and schools navigate the media.
Vicky Rideout, co-author of the report and founder of VJR Consulting, a firm specializing in youth, media and family research, said that children’s media use presents “huge opportunities and important risks.”
“It gives young people an opportunity to find resources on information to engage with and to use apps to help them meditate or sleep, to connect with peers who may be experiencing challenges similar to theirs Support for other people, ”said Rideout.
Risks include the potential for teens to be exposed to harmful messages online and to isolate themselves socially from their peers due to more individual content.
The researchers analyzed data from a nationwide representative survey of more than 1,600 tweens ages 8 to 12 and teenagers ages 13 to 18 about their relationship with the media. They tracked changes in adolescents’ media behavior and compared the current results with those of the first wave of the study in 2015.
The on-screen media time figures do not imply that teenagers used only on-screen media during this period. Young people could multitask, such as getting dressed while watching a video and scrolling for two hours on a smartphone while the television was on for two hours, using the study’s methods, this would add up to four hours of screen media time.
The survey looked at adolescents’ use and enjoyment of different types of media activities and how often they were involved. All types of media were addressed, including reading printed books, using social media, watching online videos, and playing mobile games.
The amount of time tweens and teens spend in front of the TV has fallen sharply. Each group spends almost 30 minutes less in front of the TV than they did four years ago, and each group enjoys it less. However, watching online videos makes up for the decline.
More than twice as many young people watch videos every day than in 2015, and the average time they spent doing it has almost doubled. YouTube dominates the online video space for both groups, more than video subscription services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.
Although YouTube states its content is only suitable for people aged 13 and over, 76% of tweens say they use the site and only 23% use YouTube Kids, a YouTube designed to provide a safer environment for younger people. Among the tweens, 53% said YouTube was the site they view the most, compared to just 7% for YouTube Kids.
“It’s a whole new ball game when kids watch online video content versus TV content because we don’t know where it’s coming from and we don’t know what the source is or where the algorithms are sending it,” said Rideout. “We need to take a much closer look at this now as we realize it may lead to online video content in recent years.”
Tweens said they enjoy watching videos online more than any other on-screen media activity now. In 2015 it was fifth in enjoyment. For teenagers it comes second behind listening to music, video games, television and social media.
Deborah Nichols, associate professor of human development and genealogy at Purdue University, said the keen interest in YouTube reflects the “shift away from globalized interest to much more specialized or individual interest” and that teenagers are likely to explore their interest on the way.
53 percent of children have their own smartphone by the age of 11, and almost 70% have one by the age of 12. Smartphone ownership among tweens increased from 24% in 2015 to 41% in 2019 and from 67% to 84% among teenagers. Almost one in five 8-year-olds has their own smartphone.
Nichols finds this “worrying” but said there was a need to have early conversations with children about media literacy.
Socio-economic status also makes a difference in screen time. It found that tweens from higher-income households use almost two hours less screen media per day than those from lower-income households, and the difference between teenagers is similar.
“If you don’t have a lot of resources at home or a lot of resources to do things outside of the home, you will be spending more time with the resources you have,” said Nichols.
“It’s an affordable, accessible source of informal learning and entertainment, and I think that’s a major reason you’re seeing these differences in screen usage between low- and higher-income children,” said Rideout.
The time spent on social media has remained constant, while the age at which young people start using social media varies. For older teenagers using social media, the average age at first using it is 14 years.
The study found that African American teenagers enjoyed social media more than their white and Hispanic and Latin American counterparts – 51% enjoyed it “a lot”, compared with 37% of white teenagers and 43% of Hispanic and Latin American teenagers. Rideout said there was “an interesting intersection between race and income”.
“African-American children are simply more enthusiastic about forms of media, be it music or games or film or television. They also tend to be early adopters and innovators, so I think this reflects a similar pattern. ”
Media tastes vary widely between boys and girls, and the difference is greatest when it comes to games. 70 percent of boys said they enjoyed playing video games compared to 23 percent of girls. By far the girls’ favorite media activity was listening to music.
Half of teenage girls say they are very happy to use social media compared with 32% of boys, and girls spend more time on it – an average of an hour and a half compared to 51 minutes for boys.
“Girls are sometimes socialized to sadly care about looks and relationships, and social media encourages this kind of relationship-building,” said Nichols.
27 percent of tweens and nearly 60 percent of teenagers use computers for homework every day, a significant increase from four years ago when only 11 percent of tweens and 29 percent of teenagers said they use a computer for homework every day.
Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University, said reported screen time was “really scary,” as it amounts to nearly 60 hours a week spent on screen media, which “leaves little time to do anything else of value to do. ”
Some experts discuss whether the term “screen time” still means a lot because of “media multitasking”, arguing that young people Skype their grandparents, read poetry or write code. However, the report found that these activities are quite rare. Despite the creative possibilities that technology offers, young people devote very little time to creating their own content.
No more than 1 in 10 in both age groups say they enjoy “a lot” of activities such as creating digital art or graphics, creating digital music, programming, or designing or modifying their own video games.
“One thing that our study doesn’t really count is sharing your work,” said Rideout. “So you may not have created the digital art on your device, but you may be taking pictures and sharing them.”
Most tweens and teenagers read for pleasure at least once a week, but 22% of tweens and 32% of teenagers said they do it less than once a month, if at all.
For parents who are concerned about their children’s media use, experts say one thing matters: talk to your children.
“I think it’s getting harder and harder for parents to keep track of this content and messages, but it’s probably more important than ever to do it,” said Rideout.
Gentile said it is time parents thought better of how children use their media.
“A smartphone is a key to everything in the world – all human knowledge, all human horrors, and that makes the internet a really valuable asset,” said Gentile. “But before I give my child the key – shouldn’t I know that they understand the risks?”
While we know the types of on-screen activities teens devote their time to, the report says we don’t know the quality of the content they’re engaging in.
“Six hours of makeup tutorial videos on YouTube are different from six hours of ‘Planet Earth’,” the report said.
In guidelines on screen use by adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents prioritize children’s activity and sleep, engage with content, and set screen-free times and zones.
After countless media and technology developments over the past 20 years, there has been a newer phase of stability, the report says – and that could give researchers, parents and educators a chance to catch up.