An Update on Teens’ Media Use

April 20, 2022

Media usage among US teens ages 13-18 and tweens ages 8-12 has grown faster since the start of the pandemic (from 2019 to 2021) than in the 4 years prior, according to a new report [pdf] from Common Sense Media. Here’s a look at media usage among teens, including where they spend the most time and their most enjoyed media activities.

Media Usage and Time Spent

The teens surveyed in 2021 reported averaging 8 hours and 39 minutes per day of entertainment screen use, per the report, representing a 1 hour and 17 minute hike (or 17% relative increase) on their total from 2019. By comparison, teens’ screen time had grown by just 42 minutes in the 4 years prior, since 2015.

TV / Video

TV and video occupies the biggest chunk of entertainment screen time among US teens. Fully 92% watch TV or videos on a daily basis, per the report, with the most common daily activity being watching online videos (77%), ahead of watching TV (49%). Although teens who watched TV on a TV set spent more time doing so (2:16 per day) than online video viewers did watching their content (1:46 per day), when averaging the time out among all teens, time spent with online video outpaced time spent watching TV on a TV set (1:22 and 1:10, respectively). That represents a milestone change from 2019, when average time spent was greater for TV on a TV set than for watching online videos.

All told, average time spent watching TV or video rose by 23 minutes between 2019 (2:53) and 2021 (3:16).

Gaming

The next-largest chunk of daily time – on average – went to gaming. Almost 6 in 10 (59% of) teens surveyed report playing video games on a target day, a slight rise from 56% in 2019. Teen gamers spent about 3 hours (3:01) per day on their video games, a 9-minute climb from 2019. When averaging time spent among all teens, regardless of gaming usage, the total was 1 hour and 46 minutes per day, up 10 minutes from 2019. This aligns with a recent study from Hub Entertainment Research, which found that gaming occupies a large chunk of 13-24-year-olds’ screen-based leisure time.

The largest portion of US teens’ gaming time (55 minutes per day among all teens) was reserved for console/portable video games, which more than 1 in 3 (35%) played on a target day. After that, teens evenly split their time between computer games (26 minutes per day / 18% partaking on a target day) and mobile video games (25 minutes per day; 33% playing on a target day). Interestingly, fewer teens in 2021 (40%) reported playing mobile video games daily than in 2019 (46%).

Social Media

Some 62% of US teens used social media on a daily basis in 2021, according to the study’s findings, relatively flat from 2019 (63%). Social media users averaged 2 hours and 10 minutes per day with this activity, up almost a quarter-hour (14 minutes) from 2019. When averaging out this activity among all teens, social media accounted for almost an hour and a half (1:27) of daily time, up from 1 hour and 10 minutes a couple of years earlier.

Other Activities

Teens also engage in other screen-based activities, of course. Six in 10 reported browsing websites on a daily basis in 2021, up from fewer than half (47%) in 2019. Indeed, teens on average spent almost an hour of their days (51 minutes) browsing websites, up from 37 minutes.

As expected given the pandemic, the percentage of teens video chatting on a daily basis also rose, from 20% to 26%. Interestingly, though, those engaged in this activity reported spending less time each day doing so than a couple of years prior.

Media Enjoyment

Teens’ enjoyment of media followed similar patterns to their media usage, though with one distinct difference: watching TV. Although about half (49%) said they watch TV every day, only about 1 in 4 (27%) reported enjoying doing so “a lot.”

The most enjoyable activity for teens is watching online videos, with 62% saying they do “a lot.” In fact, this is the only screen-based entertainment activity that a majority of teens said that they enjoy doing a “lot,” ahead of playing video games (39%), playing mobile games (28%), and using social media (34%). Moreover, watching online videos was the only media activity listed in which a greater proportion of teens in 2021 said they enjoyed it “a lot” than in 2019.

A sizable decrease was noted for social media use: the 34% enjoying this “a lot” in 2021 was down from 41% in 2019. This coincides with other research from GWI indicating that Gen Zers around the world are considerably more likely than others to believe that there is too much pressure to be perfect on social media. Moreover, a majority of adult Instagram users aware of the current social media controversies say they are likely to limit or completely stop their children from using the app given reports about its effect on youth mental health.

Teens’ Favorite Social and Video Sites

Given that watching online video is the most enjoyable media activity on average for teens, perhaps it’s not too surprising to see YouTube top all the lists for platform usage. [Note that the following figures are among the 79% of 13-18-year-olds who report being regular users of social media and online videos (at least once a week).]

Among this group, more teens reported ever using YouTube (83%) than any single social platform, be it Instagram (70%), TikTok (69%), or Snapchat (64%). Just 4 in 10 said they ever use Facebook, while close to 1 in 4 ever use Discord (23%) and Twitter (22%).

Of the 10 social and video platforms listed, YouTube maintains its position at the top of the list when looking at frequent usage, though the gap is much narrower. Some 24% share said they use YouTube the most, just ahead of the 22% who said they use TikTok the most and the 21% who pointed to Snapchat. Instagram (15% share) was next, followed by Discord (8%). A recent study from Forrester indicated that more Gen Zers in the US now use TikTok on a weekly basis than do Snapchat and Instagram.

Finally, the most indispensable platform of the 10 listed by Common Sense Media? YouTube, by a sizable margin. About 1 in 3 (32% share) said it was the one they wouldn’t want to live without. YouTube topped Snapchat (20%), which was followed by TikTok (13%) and Instagram (13%). This aligns with research from Piper Sandler, which found that Snapchat remained US teens’ favorite social media platform as of late 2021.

About the Data: The 2021 results are based on a September-October survey of 1,306 8-18-year-olds in the US, including 708 13-18-year-olds.

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