Watching TV in real time is out. YouTube videos are in. More and more kids—even those as young as age eight—have their own smartphone. And while all children spend hours every day on screens—even if they are not doing homework—children from low-income families get more screen time than their more advantaged peers.
Those are some of the key findings of Common Sense Media’s Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens. The report looked at broad trends in how kids ages 8 to 18 consume media, from reading books to social media to mobile games.
On average, 8- to 12-year-olds spend nearly five hours screens for entertainment, the San Francisco based non-profit, which specializes in children and the media, found. And teens spend an average of just under seven and a half hours on screens. (That doesn’t include time spent for school or homework.)
That’s an uptick: The usage for tweens, defined as kids age 8 to 12, represents an 8-minute bump from 2015, the last time the survey was taken, which isn’t considered statistically significant. But teens (defined by the study as 13 to 18) reported spending slightly more time online now than they did four years ago, by an average of 42 minutes a day.
But teens from higher-income homes tend to spend less time on screens than those from lower-income households, the survey found. More economically advantaged teens spend almost four hours a day on screen media, compared to nearly 6 hours for lower-income teens.
By age 11, the majority of kids have their own smartphone. And by age 12, more than two thirds of kids do. What’s more, nearly 20 percent of 8-year-olds have their own smartphone. Eighty-four percent of teens have a smartphone, up form just 67 percent four years ago.
That means it is even more important for educators and parents to help kids “develop the skills and disposition necessary and thoughtfully engage with the online world,” said Michael Robb, the senior director of research at Common Sense. “What are those habits that you have to get into to be a good global citizen. How do I not plagiarize? There’s a lot of skills that aren’t necessarily going to be learned just through experience and need to be formally taught and informally.”
The biggest change in young people’s media consumption? They spend way more time watching videos. The percentage of 8- to 12-year-olds who report watching videos online “every day” has more than doubled in the past four years, going from 24 percent in 2014 to 56 percent in 2019. And the percentage of teens who say they watch online videos every day has jumped from 34 percent in 2015 to 69 percent this year.
So what are these kids watching? YouTube is very popular. And even though the site says it is for children aged 13 and over, 76 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds say they use it.
Teens and tweens they are not watching much real-time television. Teens (ages 13 through 18) report watching just 25 minutes of TV programming on a regular TV set, as it is airing. That’s down from an average of 54 minutes per day in 2015.
That shift, “changes the nature of what kids will end up seeing,” Robb said. Children will be “much more subject to YouTube’s algorithm” as opposed “having a media experience with your family ... Losing even shared media time feels like a potential loss.”
“It’s a little sad and we’d be well served to keep encouraging kids to find thing that they enjoy reading for pleasure,” Robb said.
What’s more, despite big advancements in connectivity, the so-called homework gap still exists. Lower income students are less likely to be able to a computer to complete school work at home. Sixty-four percent of higher income teens say they use a computer every day for homework, compared to 51 percent of lower-income teens.
What that means: Children from lower-income homes are “much more reliant on their smart phones” than those from higher-income families. And it’s a lot harder to do your homework on a smartphone than on a laptop, Robb noted. “The quality of these media experiences [is] not the same,” he said.
Students are also unlikely to use their smartphones or computers to create new content, the report found. Just 10 percent of teens and 9 percent of tweens say they really enjoy making their own digital art or graphics. And only 4 percent of tweens and 5 percent of teens are big fans of creating digital music, and only 4 percent of tweens and 3 percent of teens really like using their devices for coding. By contrast, 67 percent of tweens and 58 teens say they really enjoy watching online videos.
That’s despite the fact that technology companies often market their devices as capable of unleashing kids’ creativity, Robb noted.
“I think for a long time many technologies have been sold with this promise of how much they are going to enable us to create. [But] consumption just crushes creation,” he said. “It begs the question of what are these devices really for? Primarily they are just consumption devices.”
The report is based on a nationally representative online survey of 1,677 U.S. young people age 8 to 18 years old, conducted from March 11 to April 3, 2019.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.