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Understanding Your Students: A Glimpse into the Media Habits of Tweens and Teens

Common Sense's new study quantifies screen use, identifies unique types of users, and uncovers patterns that could spark improvements in content, access, and learning.

Michael Robb | November 3, 2015

For today's tweens and teens, technology is part of the fabric of everyday life. They're watching TV on lots of devices and using smartphones and tablets to maximum advantage -- texting, researching, sharing, connecting -- sometimes using multiple devices at once. Educators need to understand how technology fits in children's lives to know how it can be used to support learning. But we can't begin to make sense of what these technological changes mean for kids until we understand what's being used and for how long and how kids feel about technology and media.

That's why we're pleased to release a new report, the Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Tweens, which paints a more complete picture of how tweens and teens are using media. Some findings may not be surprising: Kids like to multitask while doing homework. Other findings point to continued challenges around digital equity: Lower-income teens have less access to home computers and are less likely to use them for homework.

Here are more findings:

It's not your imagination -- media use is off the charts.

Teenagers (age 13-18) use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day, and tweens (age 8-12) use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework. Of that, tweens average more than four and a half hours of screen media use a day and teens more than six and a half hours.

Low-income kids lack access.

Kids growing up in lower-income homes are far less likely to have access to computers, tablets, and smartphones than their wealthier peers. Computers are used more frequently for homework by higher-income teens (83 percent use it weekly or more often) than lower-income teens (61 percent use it weekly or more often).

Multitasking during homework is the norm.

Many young people use media while doing their homework. For teens, this multitasking includes listening to music (76 percent), sending texts (60 percent), watching TV (51 percent), or checking social media (50 percent).

Young people believe they can do it all. 

Most young people who use media while doing their homework think it doesn't make a difference in the quality of their work, with one exception: Many teens (50 percent) think listening to music helps the quality of their work.

Young people read for homework and pleasure.

Tweens are equally likely to read for homework (46 percent) or for pleasure (44 percent) on any given day, but teens are more likely to read for homework (44 percent) than for fun (29 percent).

Social media use is big, but maybe not super fun.

Social media is an integral part of most teens' lives (45 percent use it "every day"), but only 36 percent of teens say they enjoy using social media "a lot," compared with 73 percent who enjoy listening to music "a lot" and 45 percent who enjoy watching TV.

Everyone can be a maker, but not many are.

The vast majority of children's engagement with media consists of consuming media, with only a small portion devoted to creating content.

With the release of the Census, Common Sense looks forward to advancing the national conversation about the role of media in young people's lives and understanding how media can be used to support children's healthy learning and development. You can read the full report here.