Media Use by Tweens and Teens

Here at Project B3, we LOVE Common Sense Media and the many topics they cover concerning kids, teens and media. Recently, they came out with the Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019. What is so great about it is that it gives us a glimpse into what we, as adults and parents, are all dying to know- what could these kids possibly be doing on their devices for so many hours a day? Sure, we ask them. But, more often than not, they reply by saying, “Nothing.” As parents, we look around and ask, “Does every kid have a phone? Or “Are they really doing homework?” Research like this gives us a broader view of how kids and teens around the country are using their time and energy when it comes to media use.

The new census tracks the changes in teens and tweens use of and relationship with media between 2015 and 2019.  The survey provides a snapshot of what media activities kids enjoy, how frequently they engage in those activities, and how much time they spend doing so. The results are based on a nationally representative sample of more than 1,600 8- to 18-year-olds.

Here are the key points from the latest census, taken from Common Sense Media:

1. Tweens and teens (still) use a lot of screen media. Eight- to 12-year-olds now average just under five hours of screen media a day (4:44), and teens view about seven and a half hours (7:22) daily — not including use of screens at school or the rapidly growing use of computers for homework (believe it or not, these numbers are not statistically higher than they were in 2015). (When kids report using more than one media type simultaneously, the time spent on each is calculated individually. For example, if a teen watches an hour of online videos while playing video games on their phone, that’s tallied as one hour for videos and one hour for games.

2. There’s this thing called YouTube …Since 2015, the percentage of young people who say they watch online videos “every day” has doubled, to 56% from 24% among 8- to 12-year-olds, and to 69% from 34% among 13- to 18-year-olds. For tweens, it is the media activity they enjoy the most, with 67% saying they enjoy it “a lot,” up from 46% in 2015, when it ranked fifth in enjoyment. Time spent watching online videos also increased from 25 to 56 minutes a day among tweens, and from 35 to 59 minutes a day among teens on average.

3. But everyone else has a phone! Tech use is aging down as young people get devices earlier. A majority (53%) of kids have their own smartphone by the time they are 11, and 69% have one at age 12. The number of 8-year-olds with phones grew to 19% in 2019 from 11% in 2015.

4. Consumption crushes creation.The majority of young people devote very little time to creating their own content (just 2% of screen use among tweens and 3% among teens). Screen media use continues to be dominated by watching TV and videos, playing games, and using social media; use of digital devices for making art, creating music, coding, or writing remains minimal.

5. A “homework gap” persists. Teens in lower-income homes spend less time using a computer for homework and more time doing homework on a phone than their peers from higher-income homes (34 minutes vs. 55 minutes on a computer and 21 minutes vs. 12 minutes on a phone per day, on average). That is likely at least partially due to lower computer ownership among teens in lower-income homes.

Project B3 finds this information fascinating. We are constantly researching topics like “the best age for kids to get iPhones” and finding out what the experts think about the topic. The experts think the older the better when it comes to iPhones, but the census revealed that 69% of the 12-year-olds who participated already had smart phones. Also, despite all the reporting and studies that have been conducted by various outlets since 2015, screen time by tweens and teens has not diminished. Even though the studies show it may lead to less sleep, anxiety, and obesity among younger people. Teens still average 7.5 hrs a day on a screen and this does not include school work.

Keep an eye out for a follow up post about how we can take the information from this census and turn it into a learning experience for parents and caregivers of tweens and teens, so we can make the most out of screen time and media use.