Children’s Screen Time Rises Fastest in 4 Years

Children's Screen Time Rises Fastest in 4 Years

During the pandemic, being away from friends and other things caused tweens and teens to use screens a lot more than they did before the pandemic.

Common Sense Media, a non-profit group that works to make life better for all kids and families, put out a detailed report in March that showed screen use in 2021 grew much faster than it had in the four years before. In the past two years, tweens have used that six times more than they did before.

Most likely, the pandemic was a big reason why people used screens less. The popularity of platforms like TikTok has continued to grow, and the study suggests that this may be one reason for the rise in use.

Researchers wanted to know if there were any long-term changes in how young people used screen media when society started to open up again in the fall of 2021. They looked at tweens (people ages 8 to 12) and teens (people ages 13 to 18) in the U.S. and how much time they spent on digital devices outside of online classes and homework.

Total entertainment screen use among tweens and teens, per day, 2015 to 2021

Total entertainment screen use among tweens and teens
Entertainment screen use includes watching TV and online videos, playing video games, using social media, browsing websites, making content, e-reading, and other digital activities. In 2021, the first time that time spent reading ebooks was counted (six minutes for tweens and eight minutes for teens), but time spent watching movies in theaters and using an iPod Touch were not (these had accounted for seven minutes among tweens and six minutes among teens in 2019). Common Sense Media is the source.

In terms of the types of devices used, the results show that there haven’t been any big changes in how tweens and teens use media as a whole. As social media use grew among younger age groups, kids and teens spent a lot more time on screens when they weren’t in school.

Online videos have become the most popular form of media among young people. But video games didn’t get a lot more popular during the pandemic. Online videos, games, and social media are still the most popular things to do. Also, the general differences between tweens and teens, as well as between boys and girls, have stayed the same.

The media can be used in both good and bad ways. Mike Robb, the senior director of research at Common Sense Media, says that vulnerable kids use media too much or in ways that hurt their mental health.

We need to be able to find those kids and help them. But there are also kids who use media to stay happy, stay in touch with their friends, or help their mental health. We need to be careful not to automatically think that all screen time is bad.

“It depends on who is using it, what they are using it for, and what needs they are trying to meet.”

More Media Use Findings

Compared to the last report on media use before the pandemic in 2019, this one found eight major changes. James P. Steyer, the founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, says that their study is the only national survey that tracks how 8–18-year-olds in the U.S. use media among a truly random sample of that age group.

Site teens wouldn’t want to live without, 2021

Seventy-nine percent of 13- to 18-year-olds use social media and online videos regularly (at least once a week), and a small percentage of them choose each site as the one they couldn’t live without.

Site teens wouldn’t want to live without
Source: Common Sense Media

In addition to the results cited above, researchers found:

  • Teens say that if they had to choose, they would not want to live without YouTube. In fact, boys and girls of all races, ethnicities, and income levels like to watch online videos more than any other type of media.
  • The number of 8–12-year-olds who use social media is on the rise. 38% of kids in the tween age group used social media (up from 31 percent in 2019). 18% of those asked said they now use social media every day (up from 13 percent since 2019).
  • Teenagers spend almost an hour and a half each day on social media, but they have mixed feelings about it. Teens spend a lot of time on social media, but they don’t like it as much as other forms of media.
  • Instagram (53%), Snapchat (49%), Facebook (30%), Discord (17%), and Twitter are the top five social media sites that teens have ever used (16 percent).
  • The average amount of screen media that tweens and teens do each day is very different from one person to the next. Boys watch more TV and movies than girls do. White kids use less than Black and Hispanic/Latino kids. Children from homes with less money use more than those from homes with more money.
  • Children consumed more media overall through the pandemic than prior to 2019 except for one source: reading did not increase in usage.
  • Almost half of all teens listen to podcasts, and one in five says they do so at least once a week. They use many different kinds of media, including ones that are mostly based on the spoken word.
  • A lot of Black and Hispanic/Latino kids from low-income families still don’t have a computer at home. This is one of the most basic parts of digital equity.

Alarming Results

Robb was shocked by how much more screen time there was in the last two years than in the four years before the pandemic. From 2015 to 2019, tweens’ use of media only went up by 3%. For teens, it went up by 11%.

But from 2019 to 2021, both tweens and teens used media about 20% more than they did in 2019. That is almost six times as much growth as we saw in tweens before the pandemic.

“I’m also surprised that 38% of tweens have used social media, even though most platforms aren’t meant for people under 13,” he said.