Tech Trends

How Teens Consume Digital Media

Common Sense graph showing smartphone adoption for tweens and teens

Tweens and teenagers today are getting smartphones earlier and they are connected to the internet 24 hours a day. This shift, typically between the ages of 11 and 12, is rapidly changing how kids today are consuming all forms of media and the largest area of growth is watching online videos.

Over the past four years, the percentage of young people who watch online videos "every day" has more than doubled among 8-to 12- year-olds from 24 percent to 56 percent and 34 percent to 69 percent for 13- to 18- year-olds. The amount of time that each age group watches online videos has also almost doubled from a half hour a day to about an hour a day on average.

These findings come from a Common Sense survey of more than 1,600 8- to 18- year-olds across the United States. Data in the report is broken down into two age groups: tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) and teens (13- to 18- year-olds.) The report is an update of a 2015 Common Sense survey that tracks trends in tween and teen media use.

"The shift from TV to online viewing means kids are often watching content alone, and there are fewer opportunities for shared experiences with family.  We hope the results of this study help guide families and policymakers in making sure kids thrive in today's technology-saturated society," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense.

While more young people have access to digital devices, the vast majority are not using their devices to create their own content. Ten percent of tweens and 9 percent of teens like making digital art or graphics and even less create digital music, code, or design or modify their own video games.

Common Sense pie chart showing screen time preferences

Across genders, 70 percent of boys say their favorite activity is video gaming. Girls enjoy listening to music the most (73 percent) and prefer reading and watching television more than boys. Boys are more likely to enjoy computer games, mobile games and watching videos in addition to video games.

Other findings in the Common Sense report include:

  • On average, teens are spending 41 minutes a day doing homework on computers, a 12-minute increase from 2015.
  • Digital divide has narrowed over the past four years between children from low-income and high-income homes. Ninety-four percent of children from high-income households have access to a computer today compared 73 percent from low-income households.  This represents a 21 percentage-point gap in 2019, compared to 28 percentage point gap in 2015.
  • Most tweens (66 percent) and just over half of teens (51 percent) read for fun at least once a week, but 22 percent of tweens and 32 percent of teens say they do less than once a month. Tweens (38 percent) are more likely to read for pleasure "a lot" compared to 24 percent of teens.

The full report on the media habits of tweens and teens is available for download with registration on Common Sense's website.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@1105media.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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