US teens spend an average of more than seven hours per day on screen media for entertainment, and tweens spend nearly five hours, a new report finds – and that doesn’t include time spent using screens for school and homework.
Among teens, the amount of time dedicated to several individual screen activities inched up by 42 minutes per day since 2015, the report said. Nearly 62% spend more than four hours a day on screen media and 29% use screens more than eight hours a day, according to a report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that helps kids, parents and schools navigate media.
Vicky Rideout, co-author of the report and founder of VJR Consulting, a firm that specializes in research on youth, media and families, said there are “huge opportunities and important risks” within kids’ media use.
“It gives young people the chance to look for resources on information that they’re grappling with and to use apps that help them meditate or sleep, to connect to peers who might be going through similar challenges that they’re going through, to offer support to other people,” Rideout said.
Risks include the potential for youth to be exposed to harmful messages online, and for them to become more socially isolated from their peers because of more individualized content viewing.
Researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of more than 1,600 tweens age 8 to 12 and teens age 13 to 18 about their relationship with media. They tracked changes in youth media behaviors, comparing current results to those found in the first wave of the study in 2015.
The screen media time figures don’t mean youth were exclusively using screen media for that period. Young people could be multitasking, such as getting dressed while watching a video, for example, and two hours of scrolling on a smartphone at the same time the television was on for two hours would amount to four hours of screen media time by the study’s methods.
The survey covered young people’s use and enjoyment of various types of media activities and how frequently they engaged with them. It addressed all types of media, including reading books in print, using social media, watching online videos and playing mobile games.
Online viewing is through the roof
There has been a large drop in the amount of time tweens and teens spend watching television on a TV. Each group spends nearly 30 minutes less watching on a TV than four years ago, and each group enjoys it less, too. Watching online videos makes up for the drop, though.
More than twice as many young people watch videos every day than in 2015, and the average time spent watching has nearly doubled. YouTube dominates the online video space for both groups, more than video subscription services such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.
Although YouTube says its content is only for those 13 and older, 76% of tweens say they use the site and only 23% use YouTube Kids, a YouTube meant to be a safer viewing environment for younger people. Among tweens, 53% said YouTube is the site they watch the most, compared to just 7% for YouTube Kids.
“It’s a whole new ballgame when kids are watching online video content as opposed to television 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 them,” Rideout said. “It’s something that we really need to look at much more closer now that we realize the shift it can place in recent years toward online video content.”
Tweens said they enjoy watching online videos more than any other screen media activity now. In 2015, it was fifth in enjoyment. For teens, it comes second behind listening to music, beating out video games, TV and social media.
Deborah Nichols, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Purdue University, said the vast interest in YouTube reflects the “shift away from globalized interest to much more specialized or individualized interest,” and that youth are likely to explore their interests in this way.