New research from Common Sense Media shows kids and teens are spending more time than ever on screens, but less time watching TV.

By Libby Ryan
Updated October 29, 2019

We’re always talking about how kids these days are addicted to screens. But although four years ago, TV still reigned supreme in kids' screen time preferences, a new report from Common Sense Media shows online videos have left TV in the dust. So kids are watching less TV, but they’re spending more time on screens than ever.

Common Sense Media’s 2019 media use census found that the average tween watches 25 minutes of TV a day and the average teen watches 24 minutes. But, 8- to 12-year-olds are averaging more than 4 hours a day on screens, while teens view more than 7 hours—not including computers at school or using computers for homework, although screen use for homework has doubled since 2015.

And YouTube and other online video platforms are among kids' favorite ways to spend time. Technically, YouTube’s rules require users to be 13 or older, the report found 76 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds use the site (less than a quarter say they use YouTube Kids, a separate app with parental controls).

More than half of tweens and nearly 70 percent of teens say they watch online videos every day. From 2015 until now, time spent watching online videos has doubled for tweens (going from 25 to 56 minutes a day) and nearly doubled for teens (from 35 to 59 minutes a day).

"The study shows worrisome indicators as our most vulnerable population—our kids—are spending a lot of time on unregulated, unrated platforms that deliver content that can be inappropriate or even dangerous," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. "And the shift from TV to online viewing means kids are often watching content alone.”

But there are pieces of good news: Kids are still reading. More than half of teens reported reading for fun at least once a week. But only 33 percent of tweens and 24 percent of teens say they enjoy reading “a lot,” while 67 percent of tweens and 58 percent of teens say they enjoy watching online videos “a lot.”

Although the report surveyed kids from a variety of demographics, the new study only looked at the quantity of kids’ screen time, not quality. And research shows that content matters: screen time isn’t all created equal.

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