Landmark Report: U.S. Teens Use an Average of Nine Hours of Media Per Day, Tweens Use Six Hours

New ‘Media Use Census’ from Common Sense Details Media Habits and Preferences of American 8- to 18-Year-Olds
Common Sense Media
Tuesday, November 3, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO – A landmark report released today by Common Sense Media finds that teenagers (ages 13-18) use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day and that tweens (ages 8-12) use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework.

Despite the significant amount of time teens and tweens spend with media, not all young people use media in the same way. The study, Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, found that race, class and gender all play a role in how kids are likely to consume media. The report identifies a significant digital equality gap between low-income kids who are far less likely to have access to computers, tablets and smartphones than their wealthier peers. However, those low-income kids who do have access are more likely to spend more time on their devices than kids from more affluent families.

Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens also finds major differences in media preferences between boys and girls. For example, teen boys average 56 minutes a day playing video games, compared to girls' 7 minutes and teen girls spend 40 minutes more a day than boys on social media (1:32 vs. 52 minutes).

While many of the newer entertainment media formats like online videos, mobile gaming and social media have become quite popular, watching TV and listening to music continue to be the media activities tweens and teens enjoy the most and do most often.  But in many cases, "old" media are being consumed in "new" ways. In fact, mobile devices now account for 41% of all screen time among tweens, and 46% among teens.

"Our world is changing and kids are spending a lot of time with media -- and they are doing it in a variety of ways and on many platforms," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.  "The census really sheds light on how different media use is for different kids – from boys to girls, low income to more affluent, and kids from all ethnic backgrounds.  There are a lot of ways media use can be educational and beneficial for our kids, from learning apps and web sites to creating content. The media use census provides parents, educators and the media industry with an excellent overview of what kids are doing today and how we can make the most of the media and technology in their lives."

Other key findings:

  • There is wide diversity in screen media use: In any given day, 34% of tweens and 23% of teens spend 2 hours or less with screen media, while 11% of tweens and 26% of teens spend more than 8 hours with screens.  Overall, tweens average more than 4.5 hours (4:36) of screen media and teens more than 6.5 hours (6:40) of screen media a day.
  • On average among teens 39% of digital screen time (computers, tablets, and smartphones) is devoted to passive consumption (watching, listening, or reading), 25% to interactive content (playing games, browsing the web), 26% to communication (social media, video-chatting), and 3% to content creation (writing, coding, or making digital art or music).
  • TV is the media activity tweens engage in most often (62% do so “every day”); teens listen to music most often (66% “every day”).
  • Social media is an integral part of most teens' lives (45% use “every day”), but it lags behind use of music (66%) and TV (58%). Only 36% of teens say they enjoy using social media "a lot" compared to 73% who enjoy listening to music “a lot,” and 45% watching TV.
  • Tweens and teens from low-income families have far less access to computers, tablets and smartphones.  For example, 92% of higher-income teens (family income >$100,000/year) have a laptop in their home, compared to 54% of lower-income teens (<$35,000/year).
  • Black youth report spending substantially more time with media than white or Hispanic youth.  For example, among teens, blacks use an average of 11:10 worth of media a day, compared to 8:51 among Hispanics and 8:27 among whites (a difference of 2:19 between blacks and Hispanics, and 2:43 between blacks and whites).

"The diversity of media use patterns among youth is astounding," said report author Vicky Rideout, senior consultant to Common Sense Media, "but it’s interesting to see that through it all TV and music continue to be the media of choice – and that social networking lags significantly behind."

The study finds that devices are finding their way into study time for teens and tweens. Notably, at least half of teens say they often or sometimes watch TV (51%), use social networking (50%), text (60%) and listen to music (76%) while doing homework.

"As a parent and an educator, there's clearly more work to be done around the issue of multi-tasking," said Steyer. "Nearly two-thirds of teens today tell us they don't think watching TV or texting while doing homework makes any difference to their ability to study and learn, even though there's more and more research to the contrary."

The Common Sense Media Use Census is part of a multiyear research effort directed by Vicky Rideout, a senior adviser to Common Sense Media, head of VJR Consulting, and director of more than 30 previous studies on children, media, and health. For analysis and full results of the Common Sense Census, visit www.commonsensemedia.org/census. Find highlights in the census infographic and video.

Methodology: This report is based on a nationally representative survey of 2,658 8- to 18-year-olds, conducted in February/March 2015.  The study is the first of its kind to document the proportion of digital screen time devoted to passive consumption, interactive content, communication, or creation.  It also includes a Media Usage Typology, describing the widely different media usage profiles among tweens and teens, such as Social Networkers, Readers, and Gamers.  The study covers TV/movies, online videos, gaming (computer, video, and mobile), social media, Internet use, music, and reading.  The survey was administered by GfK, using their KnowledgePanel©, a probability-based Web panel designed to be representative of the United States. 

About Common Sense Media
Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families and educators thrive in a world of media and technology. We rate, educate, and advocate on behalf of kids, families and schools. Common Sense offers the world’s largest and most trusted library of age-based ratings and reviews of all types of content targeted at kids, and our research-based curriculum and tools are used in over 80,000 U.S. schools. For more information, go to: www.commonsense.org.

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