Two Years Into the Pandemic, Media Use Has Increased 17% Among Tweens and Teens
A new research report by Common Sense Media sheds light on what's driving the growth of media use by tweens and teens, and the media activities they enjoy most.
SAN FRANCISCO, March 23, 2022—A new research report from Common Sense Media provides a clearer picture of what many parents, educators, and child advocates have long suspected when it comes to media use by teens and tweens after more than two years of the pandemic: It spiked. The new research reveals that media use by 8- to 18-year-olds has grown faster during the two years of the pandemic than it had over the four years before the pandemic began. But the increase in media use only tells part of the story.
The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2021, is Common Sense's first analysis comparing screen use before and during the pandemic. The latest data shows that from 2015 to 2019, entertainment screen use, excluding media and tech use for school or homework, grew only 3% for tweens, and 11% for teens. But from 2019–2021 alone, after the start of the pandemic, screen use grew by 17% for both age groups. In the past two years, average daily screen use jumped to 5:33 from 4:44 among tweens, and up to 8:39 from 7:22 among teens.
But the report looks beyond daily screen time and considers other data to better understand how kids are spending their time online and how much they enjoy various media activities. While social media is popular among teens, and growing more popular with tweens, not all of them are enjoying the experience. Eighty-four percent of teens surveyed say they use social media, but only 34% say they enjoy using social media "a lot," which is much lower than the 62% who say they enjoy watching online videos that much.
One key data point that should not be overlooked by families, educators, and policymakers alike is the disturbing trend of younger users flocking to social media platforms that are designed for older audiences. The survey found that social media use is increasing for 8- to 12-year-olds, an age group that is technically not allowed to have access to the main social media platforms. Thirty-eight percent of respondents surveyed in this age group say that they use some form of social media, up from 31% in 2019.
"The aging down of social media is something we should be concerned about, as social media platforms are not designed with children in mind," says Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media. "Tech companies need to be accountable for the young people on their platforms and consider kids' development when creating their algorithms, design features, and techniques to keep them engaged. And if parents and caregivers find their children online in spaces designed for adults, they should plan to help them develop safe, healthy patterns of behavior.""
The report also addresses differences in gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background when it comes to media use. While screen time has risen across the board, boys use more screen media than girls, Black and Hispanic/Latino youth use more screen media than White youth, and tweens and teens in lower-income households engage with substantially more screen media than their peers in higher-income households.
"Given the amount of time young people spend engaging with screen media, it's incredibly important that content providers, policymakers, and parents do everything possible to enhance the quality of the experiences being offered," said Victoria Rideout, lead author of the research. "This is why we need to care so much about issues like gender and ethnic stereotypes in media."
"If kids are spending this much time online, and some are even feeling conflicted about it, we need to give them safer digital spaces to explore,'' says Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. "This report should be a wake-up call for policymakers, who are seeing unprecedented bipartisan support for action. Passing legislation, such as COPPA 2.0, CAMRA, and KOSA, would put safeguards in place to make technology work better for kids."
You can see the full report here.
Methodology: The data in this report is from a nationally representative, probability-based online survey of 1,306 young people (age 8 to 18) in the United States. The survey was conducted from Sept. 29 through Oct. 25, 2021, by Ipsos Public Affairs for Common Sense Media, using Ipsos's KnowledgePanel©. The survey was offered in English or Spanish.
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.