Common Sense Media: For tweens, neither phones nor Facebook trump TV

With US tweens consuming six hours of media entertainment per day, it's clear their love of watching TV hasn't waned - and statistically speaking, neither has the socio-economic digital divide between households. Vicky Rideout, author of Common Sense Media's landmark new study, opens up on her findings and their implications.
November 3, 2015

Look up from your phone and you’ll see a country full of kids glued to their TVs.

By all accounts, the American media landscape has changed tremendously over the past five years. Consider the fact that the iPad didn’t even exist when industry nonprofit Common Sense Media last undertook a comprehensive analysis of kids’ media usage in 2010. And so, just as the American Pediatric Association has taken measures to update its mandate to meet the needs of today’s children, Common Sense Media has set forth to better understand them.

Among the findings in the highly anticipated The Common Sense Census, which surveyed more than 2,600 American eight- to 18-year-olds between February and March 2015, 71% of tweens watch content on a traditional TV set, while 14% watch on any other device. In terms of the amount of time spent watching TV or movies – 83% of tweens’ viewing time occurs on a TV set (time-shifted on-demand content included).

The report, which analyzed usage of all screen and non-screen based media activities, substantiates the fact that despite the variety of new media activities available to them, watching TV and listening to music dominate young people’s media diets. Eight- to 12-year-olds consume an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily, while teens average nearly nine hours (8:56) of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework. This includes watching TV, movies and online videos, playing video, computer and mobile games, using social media and the internet, reading, and listening to music.

Tweens average 4:36 hours of screen media use daily, while teens log more than six and a half hours (6:40) a day. The study identified several distinct types of media users among tweens. Mobile Gamers average 1:44 hours playing mobile games, but only four minutes playing video games. Video Gamers average 2:10 hours playing video games. Heavy Viewers, meanwhile, average 5:08 hours a day watching TV and videos, but only three minutes playing video games. These three groups of tweens spend a lot of time with screen media, but they spend it doing different things (a total of 4:48 hours of screen time among Mobile Gamers, 5:55 hours among Heavy Viewers and 6:42 hours among Video Gamers). When asked which activities they enjoy a lot and which ones they engage in every day, watching TV and listening to music dominate. And among tweens, the top activity is watching TV - nearly two-thirds (62%) say they watch every day. By comparison, 24% watch online videos and 27% play mobile games every day.

“Kids have been given a whole range of new options for media activities. Suddenly, there’s social media, touchscreens, online video and mobile gaming – none of these existed before, and yes, tweens do all of these things and enjoy it, but TV and music are still commanding most of their affection,” says Vicky Rideout, lead author of The Common Sense Census. “It’s not totally surprising, but it’s interesting. There’s been incessant reporting on the rise of mobile and social media consumption among kids and the inevitable detrimental impact these things have on TV viewership. What I find surprising is the low level of TV watching that’s occurring on mobile devices. The change is slower than anticipated.”

To be sure, the TV landscape has undoubtedly changed. Both tweens and teens now interact with media content across a diverse set of devices. For example, among teens, only 50% of all TV- and video-viewing time consists of watching TV programming on a TV set at the time of broadcast; 8% involves time-shifted viewing on a TV set; 22% involves watching online videos on platforms such as YouTube; 7% involves watching DVDs; and 14% involves watching TV shows or movies on another device such as a computer, tablet or smartphone. The time spent watching videos or TV shows online is divided: 43% of content is watched on a phone, 31% on a computer, 17% on a tablet and 9% on an iPod Touch.

The study has also brought to light a lack of affinity for social media among teens, in particular. “About a third of teens who like social media say they use it a lot. We think of this generation as the social media generation, and it’s not, and it’s starting to make sense,” says Rideout. “I’m seeing social media use as something teens have to do but not an activity that they necessarily find fun. It’s like a necessity with a functional purpose.”

That need to maintain an online social presence is no small undertaking. Teens are still spending an average of 1:11 hours a day devoted to using social media, and 45% of over-13s say they use social media every day – but that’s a far smaller percentage than those listening to music (66%) or watching TV (58%) as often.

In terms of gender – an increasingly hot topic within both the kids interactive and retail spaces – some findings are consistent with recent discoveries from PlayScience on gender discrepancies in digital play among US kids. Common Sense Census sees that the biggest differentiator between boys and girls is console video game playing. Most boys like console games – a lot - and play them frequently, and most girls don’t. (For example, teen boys average 56 minutes a day playing video games, compared with only seven minutes for girls.) Girls like reading more than boys do and devote more time to it, with an average of 33 minutes a day for girls, compared with 23 minutes for boys. Both boys and girls enjoy listening to music and using social media a lot, but girls enjoy those activities more and spend quite a bit more time participating in them.

Other divisions in media usage are of the socio-economic variety. The Common Sense Census finds that children in lower-income families are significantly less likely than their wealthier peers to live in homes with digital technologies. For example, 13% of lower-income eight-to 18-year-olds (whose families make less than US$35,000 a year) have an eReader in the home, compared with 41% of higher-income youth (US$100,000+ a year). Moreover, 54% of lower-income teens have a laptop in the home, compared with 92% of higher-income teens. One in 10 lower-income teens has only dial-up internet at home, compared with none of the higher-income teens in our sample. And lower-income tweens and teens are much less likely to have a smartphone at home, at 65% compared with 93% of higher-income eight-to 18-year-olds.

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