Teenagers and Their Screens

Posted on: 02/6/13 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Which screens are teenagers clocking the most time in front of?

The answer has always overwhelmingly been the traditional TV. But, as a guy who spends a few hours a day researching youth culture, I’m not sure that it’s going to stay that way.

Each year new studies emerge revealing the growing popularity of other screens like the laptop, the smartphone and the tablet. This new Harris Interactive study, for example, shows 30% of young people age 18-34 favoring TV as their primary source of news and entertainment, with a very close 28% favoring the laptop computer.

The race is getting closer.

But let’s be clear, these studies vary depending on how you ask the question. For example, in the end of 2011 I blogged about a study where teenagers were asked, “What would you rather give up, T.V. or internet?” A slight majority said they’d give up TV. But if you look at the most recent Nielsen reports, you’ll find that young people (even as young as 12-17) are clocking more butt time in front of a TV than in front of a computer.

So which is it? And is perception different than actual time spent?

As a parent of three teenagers with iPhones, I can’t help but observe a huge increase in mobile app time. In my house, my kids’ daily smart phone time probably exceeds their daily TV time. But my kids don’t watch much TV, and I don’t want to assume that my home is an accurate representation of America.

It’s funny to look at all the different numbers various studies come up with. Sometimes it’s difficult to know who to believe. I’ve learned to look for common trends in reports. For example, most reports agree that smart phone ownership is growing, which is boosting the amount of time that kids are using social media. But most reports also agree about the draw of the TV. What differs is exactly how many hours young people are spending on each medium.

It’s important to notice these differences among age groups. For example, if you look at most studies about 18-25-year olds, they don’t seem to watch as much traditional TV as other age groups. Maybe this is because a huge chunk of them are in a college dorm without cable or Satellite. My 19-year-old son lives in a dorm at Azusa Pacific University. When he watches TV, he’s usually streaming Hulu or Netflix on his laptop. Compare that to his grandpa who watches almost all television via DVR on his TV.

The one source that no ones seems to doubt is the Kaiser studies. In 2010 Kaiser released their most recent “entertainment media” study, a study released every 5 years and cited by almost every periodical, newspaper and medical journal. This report revealed that the average 8-18-year old in America watches over 4 hours of TV a day, listens to over 2 hours of music and spends over an hour online.

The only problem? The report only comes out every 5 years!!!

So the last numbers we have are from the 2010 report, which are 2009 numbers. That’s 4 years ago. Back then, Pinterest wasn’t even on the map, and most teenagers didn’t own smartphones (now 74% of 25-34-year olds and 58% of 13-17-year olds do). What will the 2015 report reveal?

One thing for sure… and I’m sure no one would argue. Young people sure spend a lot of time in front of screens!

What about you?
What do you observe out of your kids?

Does TV consume more time from your teenagers than other screens?

4 Replies to “Teenagers and Their Screens”

  1. One nuance to this question that may complicate finding an accurate answer is calculating the concurrent use of TV and Internet. With the increase in smartphone, tablet and laptop use teens and young adults can now watch TV AND surf the internet at the same time. Which many of the teens I know do regularly.

    One other element that I find interesting is how hard it is for teens to accurately gauge how much time they have spent on the internet as compared to TV. My observation is teens are on their smartphones in incremental bites throughout the day. The incremental moments likely add up faster than they realize. TV watching happens in larger junks of time and is easier to monitor when it comes to actual awareness of time spent engaged. Whatever the medium I have discovered that most teens and young adults haven’t given much thought to the impact all of this electronic screen time might have on them as a person. It’s kind of new territory to talk about and learn to reflect and discern how our behavior impacts who we are as a person.

    1. Thanks for the comment Weston. That concurrent use you talk about is called “Multi-tasking,” a big buzzword for researchers these days. I actually blogged about a Nielson multi-tasking study just a few months ago in this post: https://jonathanmckeewrites.com/archive/2012/11/20/americans-multi-tasking-watching-tv.aspx

      Interesting still, the research about how kids who multi-task more are more easily distracted. Interesting stuff. My post about that here: https://jonathanmckeewrites.com/archive/2009/08/25/young-people-multi-tasking-not-so-well

  2. Children love their screens because parents love their screens and use them to help them parent. At a very young age, many children are put in front of the TV. Research shows that children should not watch TV until the age of 2, but I wonder how many parents actually follow this guideline. American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the danger of watching TV before the age of 2. I am also really shocked by car TVs for kids. After leaving church on Sundays, I have seen some parents turn TVs on in their cars while parents drive home. Yikes!

    No wonder we have such an issue of children who cannot focus in school. TV programs and video games move at such a fast pace with moving graphics constantly changing. I teach 5th grade students. It seems like the students who spend more time watching TV and playing video games struggle more with focusing on tasks, listening, and paying attention.

    The number of different screens are exploding in households worldwide. I am not ant-screens; my wife and I use some children’s TV shows and movies to as teaching resources for our children. Still, we must be careful as parents not to let screens do the parenting for us and create a society full of children who have attention disorders. The key is limiting screen exposure.

    Nicholas Kleve

  3. My experience is that a lot of teenagers are watching more downloaded (illegally, but that’s another discussion!) tv series and movies on their pc’s or tablets, and don’t equate that as “tv time”, which would skew the figures. Also, the teens are more likely to watch these alone in their rooms rather than with the family group, breeding even more isolation.

    Electronic media – love it, loathe it – can’t live without it!

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