Media has helped teens and tweens thrive during the pandemic
Published: February 3, 2022
By: Michael Robb
As the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, worries about how much time kids are spending in front of screens continue to dominate the conversation around media use during the pandemic. Disruption to school and social activities is still pushing a lot of daily life online. But as we do more research and understand exactly how kids have been engaging with media since the pandemic began, we also continue to see just how vital media of all types — entertainment, social, creative — has been for our kids to get through a very tough time.
Common Sense Media’s latest report from the Common Sense Census — The Role of Media During the Pandemic: Connection, Creativity, and Learning for Tweens and Teens — takes a closer look at how tweens and teens have been using entertainment media to keep their connections and their creativity alive when their worlds are so disrupted. This report brings kids’ voices into a discussion that to this point has only included the adults in their lives. Here’s what Common Sense Media learned from them about their media use:
Entertainment media helped tweens and teens cope with the pandemic. A large majority said it was important for boosting their moods (84%), staying connected to friends and family (83%), and simply having fun (91%). To stay connected with their friends, tweens and teens reported that they played video games together online, hung out with others on video chat, watched TV shows or movies together online, and attended virtual groups like clubs or classes.
Kids proactively turned to media to keep learning and expressing their creativity, even when outside of school. Tweens and teens used media to learn something they were interested in (78%), to create (53%), or to share something with others (39%). And this online learning and creativity was not related to work they were doing for school.
Boys and girls did not participate in media activities equally. Overall, 70% of tweens and teens played video games with others to connect, 56% hung out with others on video chat, and 40% watched TV shows or movies together online during the pandemic. But boys and girls showed interest in different types of activities.
For example, boys played video games online with friends more often than girls (71% of boys versus 41% of girls said at least once a month), while girls participated in video hangouts with friends more often (40% of girls versus 31% of boys said at least once a month).
Tweens and teens have found some silver linings to the pandemic, but they’re also ready to return to a more “normal” media balance. When asked “what’s one thing about your life, if any, that changed for the better during the pandemic,” the number-one answer by far was some version of “spending more time with family.” And no matter how engaging media has been for kids during this time, it has also reinvigorated their desire and appreciation for connecting in person. Nearly half of the kids in this survey reported they wanted to spend time with friends in person more often than they did before the pandemic, while 33% want to get together “about the same.” Only 12% said “less often.”
This report reinforces the value of why it’s so important to elevate the good stuff in media by highlighting the shows, games, apps and books that engage, inspire and represent everyone equally. It also serves as a reminder that when kids turn to media, they need to enter a space that is safe, healthy and free of hate speech and misinformation.
As parents, caregivers and educators, we should be careful not to demonize screen use. Media has played a very fundamental role in helping kids get through a long and often lonely time, and in that way, technology and media really matter. But despite how engaging media has been for kids during this time, many are ready for a return to connect in person, and a more “normal” media balance. In fact, 41% felt they spent too much time on their screens.
As we head into 2022, with the potential of returning to some aspects of pre-pandemic life, it should be reassuring for parents, teachers and caregivers to see that kids are ready to realign their balance of media to make room for other aspects of a healthy life.
*The data in this report is from a nationally representative, probability-based online survey of 1,318 young people (ages 8 to 18) in the United States.
This story was reprinted with permission from Common Sense Media.