Managing Screentime in Teens’ Screen-filled Lives

teens smartphones photo

Managing sreentime is a tricky but important job for parents in this day of ubiquitous technology. Important because too much screentime is linked to some serious side effects, like poor grades, mental illness, and physical ailments. Tricky because devices are portable and deeply embedded into the social, academic, and personal lives of young people.

Common Sense Media released a comprehensive report on young people’s media use. Titled The Common Sense Census, the report documents how and why tweens and teens in the United States interact with and consume media. It’s a unique document because it covers not only quantity but levels of enjoyment, with some surprising—and alarming—results.

Do the report’s findings line up with the way Australian young people use media? Australian research indicates fewer hours of use, but the results of this report are still compelling for Australian parents and educators.

The Common Sense Media researchers explain:

“With the explosion of devices and forms of content in today’s media landscape, it is increasingly challenging to measure the time youth spend and the things they do with media and technology. Media devices are portable, ubiquitous, and integrated as essential tools in young people’s lives, and what counts as “media use” or even “screen time” is harder to define.”

nine photoThe verdict:

Nine hours a day is the pause-worthy finding. The survey found American teens consume an average of NINE hours a DAY of entertainment media. Academic screentime is not included in this sum.

Clearly, technology must be eating into sleep and other crucial parts of young people’s lives.

Profiles of Use

One of the most interesting aspects of the report is the identification of use profiles. Using the information they gleaned from random sample of 2,600 young people, the Common Sense researchers identified what they call “Media Use Typology.” While most young people use their devices for more than one purpose (e.g., gaming, listening to music, and watching TV shows), they have a favoured or dominant use.

6 Use Profiles of Tweens (8-12 year olds):

  • Video Gamers
  • Social Networkers
  • Mobile Gamers
  • Readers
  • Heavy Viewers
  • Light Users

5 Use Profiles of Teens (13-18 year olds):

  • Heavy viewers
  • Gamers/Computer Users
  • Readers
  • Social Networkers
  • Light Users

Gender Differences

teenager instagram photoAnother interesting finding was that boys and girls use media in very different ways. According to the researchers, “It is very clear that boys and girls have very different preferences for media activities and different patterns of use, and the results of this survey document those differences quite concretely.”

Although it’s probably no surprise that girls lean towards social media while boys are the big gamers, it is helpful to confirm this fact empirically. Different screen uses require different management tactics.

Understanding how young people engage with media is helpful for parents and teachers as we consider effective ways to encourage healthy use and new ways of managing screentime. For example, computer and video games have an addictive element that is not present in some other types of engagement. Parents of gamers need to help their tween or teen manage their screentime and be selective about content choices from an early age. On the other hand, parents of girls need to continue talking to their teens about appropriate use of social media.

The Full Report

The full Common Sense Media report can be found here.

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