Media Use For Teens and Tweens Jumped 17% During the Pandemic

Media Use For Teens and Tweens Jumped 17% During the Pandemic

Screen time and social media use is up for children as young as eight
tween using a tablet

During the pandemic, screen time increased for adults and children due to remote work, online schooling, and a general need for people of all ages to stay socially connected — but it didn’t come without consequences.

A recent survey from nonprofit research organization Common Sense, reveals that young people now spend an alarming amount of time online. In their survey of more than 1,300 young people, ages 8 to 18 — also dubbed teens and tweens — Common Sense found that the average teen now spends more than a third of the day online.

Entertainment media on the rise for tweens

While people over 50 reported engaging more with social media, video chat and other forms of online entertainment during the pandemic, so have young children.

For tweens — a group defined by Common Sense as age eight to 12 — screen time went into overdrive. Their use of entertainment media outside of school rose by 17% between 2019 and 2021. By comparison, it grew by 3% in 2015 to 2019.

Here's what tweens reported in regards to their online use:

  • 38% have now used social media, up from 31% in 2019
  • 18% use social media every day
  • 59% participate in online gaming every day
  • 43% have their own smartphone
  • 47% use entertainment media for more than 4 hours a day
  • Average daily screen use is five hours and 33 minutes for entertainment, versus four hours and 44 minutes before 2019

The top activities that tweens say they engage in while online include watching television and videos (two hours and 40 minutes followed by gaming (one hour and 27 minutes). But online gaming, which this age group primarily accesses through consoles and mobile devices, can pose a number of threats to young children. Internet security company Kaspersky, says that if children are allowed to participate, parents need to warn them about the real dangers of gaming, which include everything from hidden fees to cyberbullying and webcam hackers.

The report raises a red flag around social media, too. Most social media platforms don't allow access for children under 13, including TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and yet nearly 60% of tweens use social media every day. While some children are likely using these platforms without adult permission, it's possible that parents are permitting their childrens' access as well.

Social media use drives older teen engagement

Tweens aren't the only group spending more time online. Social media use and overall screen time has increased for teens, too. Here's what the group — ages 13 to 18 — told Common Sense about their online habits:

  • 62% use social media daily
  • 56% participate in online gaming every day
  • 41% use screen media more than eight hours a day, up from 29% in 2019
  • Average daily screen time is eight hours and 39 minutes for entertainment, up from seven hours and 22 minutes in 2019

Like tweens, the top activities teens engage in online include watching TV and videos (three hours and 16 minutes) followed by gaming (one hour and 27 minutes). But teens spend nearly five times as much time as tweens on social media (one hour and 27 minutes versus 18 minutes, respectively).

For any age group, that amount of exposure to social media can be troublesome. In a 2021 study of Gen Zers (age 13 to 24), conducted by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), 66% of participants reported feeling uncomfortable on social platforms sometimes, and 56% admitted to spending too much time on social media.

In a separate 2021 survey of people ages 16 to 24, roughly 80% or more respondents said that social media directly impacts their depression, self-esteem, anxiety and even happiness, and the majority (61%) expressed concerns about social media addiction.

For concerned parents who want to help their teens unplug, there are steps to take. You may consider modeling healthy boundaries, like putting devices away during meals and asking the family to do the same. Additionally, parents can help kids turn off notifications, set time limits for gaming sessions or opt to listen to a book or or a podcast together, instead of streaming.

Methodology: The data in this report is from an online survey offered in both English and Spanish of 1,306 people ages 8 to 18 in the United States. The survey was conducted from Sept. 29 through Oct. 25, 2021, by Ipsos Public Affairs for Common Sense Media.

Groups in the survey are defined as follows:

  • Tweens: 8 to 12 years old
  • Teens: 13 to 18 years old