The State of Teens, Tweens and Screens

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice how screen and media time continues to grow for so many of us, young and old, these days. Televisions, computers, e-readers, tablets and smartphones offer unprecedented opportunities to engage in all manner of entertainment media.

But just how much of this entertainment do our teens and tweens consume? Common Sense Media recently asked thousands of youth between the ages of 8 and 18 about their entertainment habits—both screen-based (TV, movies, Internet usage, etc.) and non-screen media (books, music, magazines and such). And the results, while not terribly surprising, are pretty significant and sobering. Here are some key findings from the “Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens.”

Perhaps the most significant finding is the total daily media usage for teens and tweens. The tween set (8- to 12-year-olds) averages nearly six hours (five hours and 55 minutes, to be exact)  of total entertainment and media usage every day, not including school and homework time. When those tweens hit their teens, that entertainment usage balloons to nearly nine hours (eight hours and 56 minutes).

The survey also found that media usage isn’t uniform, but rather can be divided into seven primary categories: light users, readers, mobile gamers, social networkers, heavy viewers, video gamers, and gamer/computer users. The kinds of media young people tend to engage with correlates significantly with how much screen and media time they’re getting overall. For instance, tween social networkers averaged the most media time daily among that age group (nearly 10 hours), while teen heavy viewers (those who gravitate toward TV and videos online) averaged a staggering 16 hours and 24 minutes of viewing daily.

Not surprisingly, there were marked media preference differences between genders. Girls spent more time than boys listening to music, reading and using social media. Meanwhile, boys are much more likely than girls to spend big chunks of time playing video games.

Despite the plethora of digital devices that enable interaction with media, however, the two activities teens are most likely to say they enjoy “a lot” and engage “every day” are watching TV and listening to music. The report’s authors note:

“Whether downloaded, streamed, or watched or listened to ‘live,’ or whether it comes through a transistor radio, a television set, a tablet, or a smartphone, there is something inherent in the nature of a TV show, a movie, or a song that seems to have an abiding appeal for youth. Watching TV and listening to music are the activities they enjoy the most and dedicate the most time to, and the appeal crosses boundaries of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. They are also the ‘oldest’ and most accessible media activities, in the sense that virtually everyone has access to the means to view television and listen to music, and devices for engaging in these activities have been around for a relatively long time compared with newer digital media.”

The authors conclude the executive summary of the study by writing, “We are struck anew by the ubiquity of entertainment media in young people’s lives. Of course ‘entertainment media’ is a very broad category, including everything from music, TV shows and videos, books, and websites to computer, video, and mobile games. but the fact that tweens and teens in the U.S. are using an average of six to nine hours’ worth of media a day is still astounding.”

Astounding indeed.

The challenge for all of us in this media-saturated environment—whether we’re parents or grandparents, children or young adults, single or married—is to engage with these omnipresent traditional and digital entertainment media in thoughtful, intentional ways. As I’ve written before, this doesn’t always come easily to me personally, both as a parent and as someone who’s immersed in and thinking about media virtually all day long as part of my work here at Plugged In.

Studies like this one serve as important prompts regarding the importance of setting reasonable, healthy limits when it comes to entertainment media—both for ourselves and our families. Doing that requires carving out some time to think through how much time spent in these media is appropriate and then, over time, establishing habits, boundaries and discipline that enable us to interact with technology and media in ways that are life-giving and healthy, not compulsively or addictively.

I don’t always get it right, as an individual or a parent. But studies like this one remind me of that it’s important to keep trying, keep resetting, keep paying attention to my own habits and those of my family as we strive to make our way through the media-flooded landscape we live in today.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

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Pamela Ramsey More than 1 year ago
How do I use this information in Youth Ministry....I'm new to YM