New Study from Common Sense Reveals the Reality Behind the Statistics of Higher Screen Time for Lower-Income Minority Youth

Detailed case studies of lower-income African-American and Latino tweens and teens show kids and parents finding connection and control through media.

Common Sense Media
Monday, October 24, 2016

Washington, D.C. -- Today Common Sense released its newest report, Connection and Control: Case Studies of Media Use Among Lower-Income Minority Youth and Parents. The report dives into the "how" and "why" of disparities in media use among tweens and teens of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and economic statuses.

The 2015 Common Sense Census: Media Use By Tweens and Teens showed striking differences in media use among varying demographics. Teens and tweens from lower-income families spend more time with media than those from higher-income families. And African-American teens use an average of over 11 hours of media a day, compared with almost nine hours among Latinos and eight and a half among whites.

The only way to understand the true impact that devices and screen time have on children is by getting a close look at kids' experiences. Through carefully documented case studies, Common Sense examined the real lives of 11 African-American and Latino kids between the ages of 11 and 15 from lower-income households and gained a greater understanding of the role of media in their lives. The report shows how media is used to make space from, and create connections to, family. Other key insights from the report include:

  • Kids' media practices are connected to their living situations. A 14-year-old in the study recently moved to an unsafe neighborhood where he has no friends, limiting his social activities. He was more of a video gamer in his old home, where he lived in a safer neighborhood and had his friends and his brother and a video game console. But, in his new place, he watches TV almost all day, having lost his console plug in the move.
  • Media and technology can support children's well-being. Television shows, movies, music, games, and books provide entertainment, which becomes particularly important when a child is living in a neighborhood with a high violent crime rate. Mobile devices provide powerful tools for meaningful communication: A 14-year-old girl living with her foster mother uses her phone to text frequently with her birth mother and father, saying that these text exchanges help her feel "relieved."
  • Parents manage kids' media use whether or not they're knowledgeable about tech. One parent in the study feels comfortable checking her kids' search histories, turning the data on her kids' devices on and off on a schedule and installing software to monitor her children's whereabouts. Another foster mother with less knowledge about digital media called the phone company directly to put her daughter's phone on standby when she wanted to take her data privileges away.

The findings also illustrate how integrated internet access is in the everyday lives of modern teens and tweens. One 15-year-old uses three apps to cut down on her travel time to and from school. A 14-year-old uses YouTube to learn new dances. Another 14-year-old uses her computer to look up the GPA and PSAT requirements for one of the universities she would like to attend. And an 11- and 12-year-old brother-sister pair living in a shelter wake up at four in the morning some days to access the Wi-Fi when it works best.

"These case studies show how critical internet access is to all children's success in the twenty-first century, practically, socially, and academically," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. "Especially when facing the challenges of poverty, they need to be able to connect."

He added, "We see in these family portraits how valuable it is for kids and parents to use media together and to have parents engaged in their children's media habits."

The study shows that parents use a variety of tactics to control their children's media use. Digital citizenship resources can help parents and children develop healthy media practices -- even if kids don't always appreciate their parents' efforts, as illustrated in one case study: Twelve-year-old Andre's mother does not allow either him or his brother to have Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or any other social media app on their shared phone. That is certainly disappointing for Andre, who moans that even "my grandma has Instagram. That is a shame."


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