Isolation from friends and other factors during the pandemic contributed to a significant increase in screen use by tweens and teens from pre-pandemic levels.
Common Sense Media – a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of all children and families – released a detailed report in March showing screen use grew much faster in 2021 than in the previous four years. That usage for tweens has increased six times over the past two years.
The pandemic probably contributed significantly to changes in screen use. Platforms like TikTok have continued to grow in popularity and could also lead to increased usage, according to the study.
Researchers sought details about whether there were lasting differences in youth screen media use when society reopened in the fall of 2021. They focused on American tweens (ages 8 to 12) and teens (ages 13 to 18) and the time they spend using digital devices, excluding the time they spend on online classes and homework.
Total entertainment screen usage among tweens and teens, per day, 2015 to 2021
Entertainment screen usage includes time spent watching television and online videos, playing video games, using social media, browsing websites, creating content, e-reading, and other digital activities. In 2021, for the first time, time spent reading ebooks was included in the total (six minutes among tweens and eight among teens), and time spent watching movies in cinemas and using an iPod Touch were not counted. counting (these accounted for seven minutes among tweens and six minutes among teens in 2019). Source: Common Sense Media
The results show no dramatic changes in the overall patterns of media use by tweens and teens in terms of the types of devices used. The amount of time they spend on screen activities outside of school rose significantly as social media use spread somewhat among younger age groups.
Online videos have cemented their place at the top of youth media hierarchies. However, video gaming has not increased dramatically during the pandemic. The main activities remain the same: online videos, gaming and social media. Also, the common patterns between tweens and teens, or boys and girls, have continued.
Media can be used both positively and negatively. Vulnerable children overuse media, or use media in ways that contribute to mental health problems, according to Mike Robb, senior research director at Common Sense Media.
“We need to be able to identify and support those children. But there are also children who use media to keep their mood up, to connect with friends or to support their mental health. We need to make sure we don’t reflexively demonize all screen time,” he told TechNews All.
“It really depends on who uses it, what they use, and to meet what needs.”
More findings on media use
The report found eight key results compared to the latest media use report prior to the pandemic in 2019. Common Sense Media’s study is the only nationally representative survey to track media use patterns among a truly random sample of eight to 18-year-olds in the United States. , according to James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.
Site Teens Wouldn’t Want To Live Without, 2021
Of the 79% of 13- to 18-year-olds who regularly use social media and online videos (using at least once a week), percent choose any site as the one they wouldn’t want to live without.
Source: Common Sense Media
In addition to the results cited above, the researchers found:
If given a choice, teens say YouTube is the site they wouldn’t want to live without. In fact, watching online videos is the preferred media activity of both groups, among boys and girls, regardless of racial/ethnic groups and income levels. The use of social media is increasing among eight to twelve year olds. Thirty-eight percent of tweens used social media (up from 31 percent in 2019). Nearly one in five (18 percent) now say they use social media on a daily basis (up from 13 percent since 2019). Teens now spend nearly an hour and a half a day using social media but have conflicting feelings about the medium. Even though teens spend a lot of time on social media, they don’t enjoy it as much as other types of media. The top five social media sites teens have ever used are Instagram (53 percent), Snapchat (49 percent), Facebook (30 percent), Discord (17 percent) and Twitter (16 percent). Both tweens and teens differ significantly in the average amount of screen media they use each day. Boys use more screen media than girls. Black and Hispanic/Latino children use more than white children. Children from low-income households consume more than children from higher-income households. Children generally consumed more media during the pandemic than before 2019, except for one source: reading did not increase. Nearly half of all teens listened to podcasts, and one in five said they do so at least once a week. They deal with a wide variety of media types, including media that are primarily based on the spoken word. Large numbers of black, Hispanic/Latino children in low-income households still do not have access to a computer at home. This is one of the most basic building blocks of digital equality.
Robb was struck by the sharp increase in screen time over the past two years compared to the four years prior to the pandemic. From 2015 to 2019, media use for tweens grew by just three percent. For teens, it grew 11 percent.
From 2019 to 2021 alone, media use for both tweens and teens grew nearly 20 percent. That’s nearly six times the growth we saw for tweens alone before the pandemic.
“I’m also struck by the fact that 38 percent of tweens have used social media, despite the fact that most of the platforms are not intended for use by people under the age of 13,” he noted.
Top entertainment screen media activity among tweens and teens, 2021
Video games refers to games played on a console, computer or portable game player. Mobile games are games that are played on a smartphone or tablet. Source: Common Sense Media
What kids do with media is just as important or more important than how much time they spend with media, Robb said. If kids use good content, use technology to socialize and hang out with their friends, and use technology to express themselves, then he thinks we shouldn’t worry so much about time.
“It’s when media use replaces important activities, such as socializing, spending quality time with family, or sleeping that I worry,” he said.
Researchers noted that they were surprised not to find drastic expansions of new tablet and smartphone distributions among tweens and teens. The investigation does not show that this happened, they said.
“We are starting to see a modest trend towards using social media at a younger age. This is especially interesting given the ongoing debates about the impact of social media on the well-being of young people,” they wrote.
The other new media product being pushed by Facebook (now Meta) is immersive media, accessible through virtual reality. The increase in time is only for entertainment media, not for school, distance learning or homework, Robb clarified.
At the moment, the use of the new medium has been slow to take off; slower even than podcast growth, the report notes.
“I keep wondering if at some point we will hit a media usage ceiling, but so far we haven’t,” Robb added.
Changing view of the impact of children
A recent study (Rideout & Robb, 2021) found that during the pandemic, many young people used their digital devices to socialize with friends online, learn about things they were interested in, and create and share their own content. This work suggests that parents and educators should be careful about demonizing children’s screen time consumption, Common Sense Media’s Steyer wrote in the report’s conclusion.
“It clearly played an important role for many tweens and teens during the pandemic,” he added.
This latest study of children’s media use shows that activities such as content creation, video chatting and online reading are common among young people and are important and meaningful to them. But that increased screen time still makes up a small fraction of total screen use, Steyer warned.
“Ultimately, the amount of time young people spend on content produced by others is still overwhelming, whether it’s content they watch, read, play with, or browse. Given the sheer amount of time kids spend on media, it all the more important to improve the quality of media by creating and highlighting the shows, games, apps and books that engage, inspire and positively represent things,” he concluded.
The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens 2021 report is: available here.