Worrisome Data | Tech Talk Tuesday

I thought it could not be possible, but for teens, ages 13 to 18, screen time has gone up by 42 minutes over the past four years. Teens now spend, on average, 7 hours and 22 minutes per day on screens, not including homework or schoolwork. These numbers came from a recent survey conducted by Common Sense Media.  

One of the reasons that 7:22 is so high is that this survey counts the time of doing more than one thing on a screen, as separate screen exposure. This means that if a teen is both watching a show, say The Office, for an hour, and at the same time doing social media on their phone for that hour, then it is counted as two hours of screen time. Even given this, 7 hours 22 minutes is a frighteningly high figure. Furthermore, this is just the average, so 29% of teens report being on screens for more than 8 hours a day. 

Also, the latest report found a significant rise in time spent watching YouTube videos, which concerns me. Companies are doing a fantastic job of using all our kids’ data (and our own) to offer up an endless stream of tempting videos. It is no wonder that by one report, 70% of all videos watched on YouTube are the ones that have been “recommended” — these are the videos that appear in the sidebar when you are watching a video on YouTube. 

So, what does this future hold? How much better will companies get at offering us hyper-enticing, highly personalized videos that are endlessly appearing. (I have tried to get to the end of the scroll when I click on my YouTube page, but alas, I cannot figure out how to do this. If you know how, please let me know.)

Another concerning finding in Common Sense Media’s survey is that the number of 8-year-olds who have their own smartphones jumped in just four years from 11% to 19%. That is a shockingly high percentage. The report does not specify what the 8-year-olds have access to on their smartphones, or how many of their care providers use blocking tools. Still, I am sure it is not 100%, and I worry about all the exposure to scary and inappropriate content.

I am troubled by the fact that all these young kids now are building habits for their future. In the US, the average 8 to 12-year-old is spending 4 hours and 44 minutes on a screen per day, not including time spent at school for classwork or homework. And now so much of screen time is on a smartphone. The habits of wanting to be on, checking all the time, now start so much younger.

Today I want to give a shout-out to a few of the groups and individuals that are working to prevent too early and too much screen time for today’s youth. 

I just had the pleasure of reading Tiffany Shlain’s new book 24/6, based on her family’s 8-year tradition of doing a tech Shabbat. Her husband and two daughters stop using all tech (except for a few minor exceptions) from sundown Fridays to sundown Saturdays. Her book looks at the history of a multitude of interesting topics, such as the origin of weekends. Most importantly, it looks at the merits of carving out screen-free time and gives lots of practical advice on how to do this, including starting one’s own tech-Shabbat type practice. 

There is the parent-created movement, called Wait Until 8th, which encourages parents to take a pledge to wait until their child is in 8th grade to give them their own smartphone. Since its inception in 2017, they have 22,000 people who have taken the pledge. They have done an impressive job of spreading the word about what they are doing.

Our movement, Away For The Day, continues to grow. We get lots of emails from parents saying how they are using the resources on Awayfortheday.org to go to their schools and work to have phones put out of sight for the day. If we are going to put a dent in the 7:22 hours kids are spending on screens, these kinds of actions are crucial. 

Parents helping parents. This idea is such an essential connection that is needed, with so many parents feeling incredibly unhinged by trying to make a tech balance in their kids’ lives work. One thing that can help these parents are efforts by other parents in their communities. Just this week, I spoke with two women who have been acting as mentors and coaches to other parents in their circles. One of them has given “Tech Talks” to groups of parents. 

So for today’s Tech Talk Tuesday, let’s talk with our kids about the findings from the latest survey around the considerable increases in time spent on screens. Here are some questions to get a conversation started:

  • How many hours do you think the average teen is on a screen? How about the average 8-12-year-old?

  • What do you think the biggest thing that 8-18-year-olds are doing in those hours? (Answer: watching TV/videos)

  • Do you ever look at the “recommendations” from YouTube? 

  • To what degree are having such recommendations helpful? Not helpful? Good for society?


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