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How much screen time is too much for our kids?

The 2019 Common Sense Census shows average daily screen use for tweens is 4 hours, 44 minutes and for teens it's 7 hours, 22 minutes
Common Sense Media Common Sense Census

As parents we tend to look to other parents to tell us how much screen time is too much for tweens and teens. So, lucky for us, The 2019 Common Sense Census on Media Use by Teens and Tweens is out. It’s the ultimate comparison tool.

The verdict: kids are spending nearly five hours or more on their devices every day and they’re watching a whole lot of video on YouTube.

What this means for your child’s mental health is still up for debate. Still, if you’ve been following the latest research that says it’s not how much time they spend online, but what they’re doing with that time, you’ll want to read on.

What is Common Sense Media?

Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization headquartered in San Francisco. Its mission is to ensure digital well-being for kids and to do so, it provides independent recommendations to schools and parents on how to navigate kids and the ever-changing world of technology.

In addition to research, they also rate TV shows, books, apps and video games based on age appropriateness and learning potential. You can search for just about anything. It’s awesome. For example:

  • Fortnite: four stars from Common Sense Media, ages 13+, but only only three stars from kids and parents
  • Thirteen Reasons Why (the book): three stars from Common Sense Media, ages 14+; four stars from parents and kids
  • CBC’s Heartland: four stars across the board from Common Sense Media, parents and kids, and for kids ages 10+

The 2019 Census surveyed 1800 youth between the ages of 8 and 18 in the U.S., and tracked their behaviour between 2015 and 2019. Results were divided into two categories: Tweens and Teens.

To find out where you and your kids sit when it comes to screen time use, and to get a better idea of what kids are doing online, read on.

Highlights of the 2019 Census

Online video viewing is through the roof.

Their words, not mine. “More than twice as many watch videos every day than they did in 2015.” And the amount of time they watched doubled.

And YouTube Kids (to be honest, I didn’t even know this existed), is not so popular. Seventy-six percent of tweens (8-12) of those who watch YouTube watch YouTube proper. Only 23% watch YouTube kids.

Sixty-nine percent of kids own smartphones by age 12

This will not be welcome news for my sister-in-law who is valiantly fighting the good fight with her two tween boys.

Smartphone ownership increased from 36% at age 10 to 69% at age 12. This is a significant jump from the 2015 census, which found smartphone ownership for those age groups increased by only 21%.

Eighty-one percent of 14-year-olds have smartphones and 91% of 18 year olds.

The amount of time spent on social media remained static

While the proportion of kids who use social media every day increased from 45% in 2015 to 63% in 2019, the amount of time remained virtually the same at 1:11 in 2015 to 1:10 in 2019.

The census also reported gender disparity when it comes to social media. Teen girls enjoy social media more and spend more time–an hour and a half a day compared to boys who spend 51 minutes.

Also, 70% of girls use social media ‘every day’ compared to only 56% of boys.

The majority of kids are NOT creating their own content

For all those parents out there who think screen time is developing creativity, this finding might give you pause: only 3% create their own writing, art or music on their smartphones. To be more specific:

  • 10% of tweens and 9% of teens make digital art or graphics;
  • 4% of tweens and 5% of teens create digital music; and
  • 4% of tweens code and only 3% design or modify their own video games whereas 3% of teens code and 6% design or modify their own video games

A third of kids read for pleasure less than once a month, if at all

Twenty-two percent of tweens and 32% of teens say they read for pleasure less than once a month. Fifteen percent of teens say they never read.

Among those who do read, the average amount of time spent reading for pleasure has remained steady from 2015 to 2019. Any guesses? Twenty two minutes a day.

For anyone who works in the magazine business, you may want to consider a new line of work. Only 2% of tweens, down from 4% in 2015, read magazines. And yikes, newspapers did not even make the list for tweens with only 1% of teens reading newspapers.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Is it in line with your own experience? Does it make you feel better or worse about your kids digital habits? And will knowing this change anything?

Further Reading

2 thoughts on “How much screen time is too much for our kids?

  1. Lots of interesting data.
    Broadening this data, there was an article in The Star about Bette Midler’s latest tweet. It was a photo of a few young girls in an art museum sitting down staring at their phone. She Said, what is wrong with this picture?’ Well she got some criticism about it. Mainly, what is SHE doing on her phone? Apparently, the demographic of Bette Midler’s generation is not far behind the youngsters in highest screen time or perhaps the same with 5 hours a day.

    It would be interesting to discuss why that is. I have a theory: our generation starting our adult years, career, relationships without the internet. Many of us were realizing our habits and rhythm with out it. And so today, for me, I actually find it a distraction. The older generation are retiring, empty nesting, etc and looking for a distraction that no longer exists in their lives like raising children, their career. Essentially filling a void. The younger generation will suck up whatever is around them. Like TV was for us.

    1. I’m with you in that I find documenting my life on social media a distraction. Seems my kids find it as essential as the air they breathe. The consent issue in The Star article is also interesting. I will have to research that – I don’t know if consents required if you’re in a public place. If anyone knows, let me know. Thanks for sharing.

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