Isolation from friends and other factors during the pandemic led to a dramatic increase in teen and tween screen usage compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of all kids and families, released a detailed report in March showing that screen use in 2021 saw a dramatic increase over the previous four years. Dual-use tweens’ usage of screens rose 6 times in the prior two years.
The authors suggest that the likely causes for the ever-more-frequent changes in screen time were the effect of the pandemic and the upsurge of platforms such as TikTok.
Researchers analyzed whether the use of screen media by children changed significantly after society had opened again after 2021. They focused on adolescents in the United States (ages 13 to 18) and tweens (ages eight to 12) and the time they spent using digital devices apart from time spent doing online classes and homework.
The total time spent by tweens and teens each day at the entertainment screen, 2015 to 2021.
Results demonstrate no major alterations in the overall patterns of media use by kids compared to adolescents by the type of device utilized. The amount of time they devote to non-school screen activities enacted a substantial boost, and social media users spread among more youthful gatherings.
Adolescent screen time has become an essential part of media visibility, especially in an age where video games are on the rise. However, rising video game popularity did not increase in several countries. The general patterns between tweens and teens, or boys and girls, continue.
Media can be used in a positive or detrimental way. Children may be overusing media, or it can be used in a way that is detrimental to their minds. Mike Robb, the chief director of research at Common Sense Media, made this observation.
We have to help these youngsters to understand how to support themselves. But there are also children out there who are using media for this purpose, as a social device, or for their private well-being. We have to make sure we aren’t stereotyping all screen time.
What are you using? It depends on who is using it, what they are using, and to satisfy what needs.
More Media Use Findings
The current media use report compared to the last media use report before the pandemic in 2019 demonstrated that eight major results differed from Common Sense Media’s survey. Steyer is the founder of the Common Sense Media association.
Site teens wouldn’t want to live without, 2021
Among the 79% of 13- to 18-year-olds who are regular users of social media and online videos (at least once a week), less than two in 10 select each site as the one they would want to live without.
Drawing from the previously mentioned results, scientists discovered other results as well.
- Teens remember YouTube as the platform they would not want to live without when forced to make a decision. In fact, participation in YouTube is popular among teens from every demographic and educational background.
- Between eight and 12-year-olds are embracing social media more than ever. Thirty-eight percent of tweens use social networking services now, up one percentage point from 2019. 18 percent of tweens said they use these platforms daily, up from 13 percent in 2019.
- Teenagers now spend close to 2 hours every day on social networking sites, although they feel conflicted about the topic. Although children spend a considerable portion of their day on social media, they don’t like it as much as they relish other forms of media.
- The most popular social media teenagers are accustomed to using are Instagram (53%), Snapchat (49%), Facebook (30%), Discord (17%), and Twitter (16%).
- Both children and younger adolescents vary considerably in the aggregate amount of time they spend watching television. Boys typically use more screen media than girls. Black and Hispanic Latino kids spend more than White ones do. Children from lower-income households spend more than those in higher-income homes do.
- Overall, children spent more media overall throughout the pandemic than before it except one app screen reading didn’t increase in usage.
- Nearly half of all teenagers listen to podcasts, and one in five said they do so at least once a week. They engage with a diverse array of media types, including media-dependent primarily on the word.
- Large numbers of Black, Hispanic, and Latino children in lower-income homes are unable to access computers at home. This is one of the earliest stages of digital equity.
Robb was struck by the drastic increase in the amount of childhood screen time since 2016 compared to the prior four years. From 2015 to 2019, a 3 percent increase was observed in the amount of tv hang around tweens. For teens, an 11 percent rise in media use was observed.
However, from 2019 to 2021 both tweens and teens experienced a 20% increase in TV use. That was almost six times the growth rate we saw before the pandemic for tweens.
I’m also struck by the fact that 38 percent of the tween populace has already used social media, even though most social media platforms are intended to be used only by people aged 13 and older.
The top entertainment media activities for tweens and teens in 2021
What children do with media is as important as or more important than how much time they spent with media, as Robb explained. If their digital media usage is good, it’s used for socializing with friends, and it lets them express themselves, then Robb doesn’t see time as being as important as other parameters.
When media use replaces important activities, like socializing, spending time with family, or sleeping, I get worried, he said.
The scientists were amazed to discover that very few tablets and smartphones were distributed to teens and tweens in the last few years. The survey did not reveal how this happened.
We are seeing a growing trend toward using social media at earlier ages. This is especially interesting given the ongoing debates regarding the impact of social media on youngsters’ health.
Robb specified that the new media outlet through Facebook (now Meta) is immersive media, accessed via virtual reality. Projections are intended for entertainment purposes, and not for educational or remote uses, he clarified.
At this point, the novelty of the medium has been slow to catch on and remains slower than the growth of podcasts.
I wonder at some point whether we’ll hit any ceiling for media use. Thus far, we haven’t. Robb added.
Changing Views on Kid’s Impact
A recent survey (Rideout & Robb, 2021) reveals that many people, including teenagers and students, used their mobile phones in the pandemic to reach out to friends on social networks, learn about subjects they treasured, and create their own content.
Many adolescents and tweens benefited from the pandemic, and it clearly played an essential role for them.
A survey among teenagers supports the view that content creation, video-chatting, and reading on the internet occur frequently and are important for them. Nevertheless, their true screen time only represents a small percentage of their overall screen time, said Tom Steyer.
Teenagers still spend more unsupervised time-consuming on content produced by others. Regardless of whether it’s the content they view, read, play with, or view on a scroll, they dominate their time.
The many hours kids invest in media make it all the more important to raise the quality of media by making and highlighting shows, games, apps, and books that offer positive images, he concluded.
The 2021 Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens report is available here.