Guest Columnists

Youth’s Use of Media

A NEW STUDY ON MEDIA usage by children, ages 8-18, shows that teenagers, ages 13-18, use entertainment media an average of nearly nine hours a day.

And “tweens,” children ages 8-12, use close to six hours a day on average. This includes screen time, listening to music and reading print outside of class requirements. This excludes time used with media for school or homework purposes.

The numbers are only averages. Some children use media less, while others use media more.

Teens described as “light users” in the survey averaged three hours: 40 minutes while those called “heavy viewers” rang up an astounding 16:26 – more than two-thirds of a 24-hour day – on average with media.

Among tweens, the light users averaged 2:16 while a group dubbed “social networkers” topped out at 9:59 on average, considerably more than the heavy viewers’ average of 7:15.

The study, issued by Common Sense Media, a children’s advocacy organization with offices in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, is a follow-up of sorts to a 2013 study called “From Zero to Eight,” which reported on media usage by the nation’s youngest residents.

One difference between “From Zero to Eight” and “The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens”: While parents answered questions in the former, it was the teen and tween users themselves who answered online survey questions for “The Common Sense Census.” In all, 2,658 children completed the online survey.

Children from minority groups, the study found, use media more during the day than their white counterparts – more than 11 hours a day for African-American teens, for instance, compared to the 8:56 spent by teens overall.

Listening to Music Favored

Listening to music is still the favorite activity of children in all age groups, although teen boys rank playing video games tops. TV watching jostles with listening to music as the top activity children enjoy “a lot” or say they do every day, and at least half of all children still watch TV live as it’s being broadcast.

Parents were not asked what they thought about their kids’ media use, but according to their kids, “more parents are concerned about the type of media content their children use than how much time they spend using it,” the report said.

“Just over half – 53 percent – say their parents have spoken with them about how much time they can spend using media.”

Healthier majorities report parents talking with them about staying safe online, when they can use media, the types of media they can use and being responsible and respectful online.

Parental Guidance

Nearly two-thirds of teens and 84 percent of tweens said their parents have spoken with them about the content of the media they use. However, “25 percent of teens who go online say their parents know only ‘a little’ or ‘nothing’ about what they do or say online, and 30 percent say the same about the social media they use,” the study said.

All this time spent with media does not seem to have a negative impact on kids’ levels of physical activity. Roughly a third of all children say they are physically active every day. The average amount of time among those who say they are active clocks in at close to 90 minutes for both tween and tweens. Among all teens, the average time spent in physical activity is at least an hour a day.

“This study is a game-changer,” said Ellen Wartella, director of the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

“Technology and media is now like the air that kids breathe. It is part and parcel of what they do.”


Mark Pattison writes about entertainment for Catholic News Service. 

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