On average, U.S. teens in 2019 spend more than seven hours a day in front of screens—not including schoolwork. The latest “media census” from Common Sense finds that screen time among teens and tweens has grown steadily since 2015, with large increases in the time spent watching online videos more than making up for a drop in time spent watching TV on a TV set. (Common Sense)
This report has been long awaited. While we have lots of updated data on digital use among adults, data on kids' use is difficult to obtain. Common Sense issued its last major report on kids in 2015.
What are the highlights?
Well, the biggest news is that the average daily time spent by tweens (age 8-12) on all forms of media has remained unchanged since 2015, at just under 6 hours. And the average daily time spent by teens (age 13-18) has increased significantly since 2015, from 8:56 to 9:49. The figures count all forms of media, including books and music, but they do not include school work.
Six hours and close to ten hours may sound like the zombification of youth. But keep these numbers in perspective: According to Nielsen, all U.S. adults spent 11:27 daily plugged into media in Q1 of 2019. Kids are mostly just following their parents' example. Keep in mind too that these figures overestimate actual time because they inevitably double-count simultaneous consumption of more than one media source (surfing the Internet while listening to the radio, for example). Total screen media time is lower--4:44 daily for tweens and 7:22 daily for teens.
Other trends. Time spent watching online videos has roughly doubled, from 30 minutes to an hour in both age groups. Time spent watching TV shows on linear (or "live") TV has dropped, from one half to one quarter of all TV watching. Smartphone use has become nearly universal by age 18: 91% in 2019 versus 77% in 2015. As digital access becomes universal, meanwhile, the digital divide between high- and low-income families is narrowing.
Both in 2019 as in 2015, the authors notice some large and (maybe) predictable differences in media use by boys and girls. Boys spend a lot more time on gaming and a bit more time on videos. Girls spend more time on everything else--social media, music, reading, and TV. A third of all teens say they read for pleasure less than once a month or never.
Contrary to general opinion, the vast majority of tweens and teens do not routinely use their devices to create their own digital content. Only one in ten say they enjoy "a lot" making digital art or graphics. And only one in twenty say the same about creating digital music or coding or modifying video games. So let's keep the post-Millennial TikTok revolution in perspective: It may not be as widespread as many imagine.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.