No duh, teen screen time is up significantly in the last two years since the global pandemic turned our world upside down. According to a new report published by Common Sense Media, kids are looking at phones, televisions, computers, and tablets for significantly longer than in the Before Times, and yep, that tracks with basically any parent you ask.
Being a tween or a teen is tough on a good day, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. When Covid-19 first hit back in March 2020, we had no idea how long our families would be isolated. Our teenaged social butterflies have been so restricted, and parents have been so busy working remotely, that it makes sense that they’ve turned to screens to interact with the world (and to escape reality).
Two years later, while we are absolutely still in the middle of a pandemic, life has returned to semi-normal. But the habits developed in quarantine aren’t going away as quickly as parents probably would have hoped. According to this new report, tween and teen screen time is up by almost 20 percent overall. That increase is less than half of the increase two years before the pandemic.
Tweens consume an average of 5.5 hours of screens per day, while teens are looking at glowing squares for an average of 8.5 hours each day.
Let’s get something straight: no one should beat themselves up for these numbers — the last two years have been a nightmare, especially for working parents.
But what we should pay attention to is the details of the data. The breakdown of the numbers isn’t shocking either, but they are super telling about bigger issues we need to deal with as a country.
For example, looking at the 1,306 tweens (ages 8 to 12) and teens (ages 13 to 18) who were surveyed for a week in 2021, researchers found that there were significant disparities in gender, class, and race across the board. On average, boys are spending more time online than girls, with significantly higher usage for Black and Hispanic/Latino kids in comparison to white kids. Those who came from middle-income ($35,000 to $99,000 per year) and lower-income households (under $35,000) families also reportedly consume more than kids from higher-income families.
While researchers can’t be sure why each of these discrepancies exist, it’s likely that kids from higher-earning homes have more support and supervision at home when it comes to child care, tutors, and other spending luxuries during the pandemic. They might also just have more toys or live in neighborhoods with more outdoor space and parks. But whatever the reason, it’s important to recognize that class, race, and gender are affecting how much screen time different kids get.
Still, it’s important for everyone to realize the impact of the pandemic on screen time — and to think about what specific content our kids are consuming on those screens, even if limiting it is not completely within our power right now.
"This report reinforces the importance of media choice for families, and the need for deeper research and understanding of how this much media use impacts our kids’ mental, physical, and emotional development,” Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media, tells Scary Mommy, “as well as the need to ensure social media and all digital spaces are safe and healthy spaces for kids to explore."
When it comes to what kids are watching, there were important trends to note, too. TV and videos are the biggest time sucks, followed by gaming and browsing the internet. Social media was barely a thing for tweens, but shot up to an average of 90 minutes a day for teens.
“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 Robb. “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. Parents should also have plans for helping to support their young kids in spaces designed for adults."
While we know that too much screen time is generally “bad” for kids, we also know that it’s part of life — and that it has especially been a necessary part of life over the past two years. In addition to taking a few measures to curb it, it’s also just as important to understand what content our kids are consuming and to work toward making the online world safer and healthier.
Of course, adults have also been chained to their screens more since 2020, too. In fact, one study found that adults were logging upwards of 17 hours of screen time a day while isolated at home, between work, Zoom, social media, and streaming television. So — don’t just examine screen time limits for your kids.
The full infographic is below, and you can visit Common Sense Media for the full report starting on March 23.