Report: Kids’ time spent on screen soars during the pandemic

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WASHINGTON, DC — Just when you thought kids couldn’t spend more time with their faces buried in a screen, they did just that.

On-screen media usage has increased 17% for teens (13-18) and tweens (8-12) since the pandemic began, according to Common Sense Media. And that’s not taking into account the time spent attending school virtually and doing homework.

The 17% growth rate in 2020 and 2021 compares to a growth rate of 3% for tweens and 11% for tweens in the four years before the coronavirus pandemic, according to the report, “The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2021,” published March 23.

“During the first year of the pandemic, distance learning forced many students to spend hours a day taking classes online. But many have also turned to screen media to stay in touch with friends and family, to pursue creative hobbies and interests, and for entertainment,” the report said.

The report looked at the many ways young people use media: watching television however it comes to them; watching videos online; use social media; playing video or computer games; playing mobile video games; reading regardless of configuration — e-books, online reading, or print reading; use digital devices to create content; listen to podcasts; and using virtual reality.

Common Sense Media reported several key findings in the report.

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— Media use increased in both age groups studied during the first two years of the pandemic. Among tweens, time spent on media in 2015 was 4 minutes and 36 seconds. It increased slightly in 2019 to 4:44, but rose to 5:39 in 2021. For teens, their media time increased from 6:40 in 2015 to 7:22 in 2019, then to 8:39 in 2021.

— “If forced to choose, teens say YouTube is the site they wouldn’t want to be without,” the report says. “In fact, watching videos online is the favorite media activity for 8-18 year olds, appealing to both tweens and teens, boys and girls, and all racial/ethnic groups and income levels.”

Of all respondents, 32% said they wouldn’t want to live without YouTube. Snapchat came in second at 20%, while TikTok and Instagram tied for third at 13% each.

— “Social media use is on the rise among 8- to 12-year-olds,” the report notes. Around 38% said they use some kind of social media, with – Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Discord and Pinterest leading the way.

– “Teens now spend nearly an hour and a half a day using social media,” said Common Sense Media, “but have mixed feelings about the medium.” The top picks for teens are the same as for tweens, except Twitter is fifth instead of Pinterest among teens.

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– “Among tweens and teens, there are substantial variations in the average amount of on-screen media used each day, by gender, race/ethnicity, and household income,” the report says.

Without going into numbers, the report says that among tweens, boys use more screen time than girls, Hispanics and blacks do more than whites, and low-income households more than high-income households. medium or high. Among teens, the same usage rates apply, except that middle-income teens outrank Hispanics.

– “Although children consumed more media overall after the pandemic than before,” the report says, “one form of media (activity) did not increase its use: reading.” Among tweens, 12% said they never read; among adolescents, 18% said in 2021 that they never read.

– There are other forms of media where less than half engage with them, meaning either there is a finite limit to how much time children spend with the media – or there are still room for growth. One of them is podcasts. Only 46% of all teens said they listened to podcasts, but one in five said they did so at least once a week, according to Common Sense Media. Reaping even lower percentages was virtual reality.

— A large number of black and Hispanic households, as well as children in low-income households, still do not have access to a home computer, one of the building blocks of digital equity. Common Sense estimates that only two-thirds of low-income families have access to a computer. By race, black and Hispanic families have percentages in the 80s when it comes to home computer access.

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“Watching television is something that young people spend a lot of time every day, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity or household income,” the report says. Majorities in all ethnic groups: 73% Black, 56% Hispanic/Latino, and 52% White.

However, “television loses some of its appeal as young people move from adolescence to adolescence,” he noted. Only 27% of teenagers said they liked watching TV “a lot”, compared to two years earlier, a third of teenagers said the same. This is still far less than the 62% who enjoy watching videos online.

The Common Sense Media figures are based on an online survey conducted last fall, from September 29 to October 25, of 1,306 young people aged 8 to 18 in the United States. The margin of error in the full sample is plus or minus 3.2%. points.

Common Sense said they contacted a parent or legal guardian first, and permission was received for the teen or adolescent to participate. No money was given to participate or enable participation, he added.

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Editor’s Note: The full survey is available here:

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