The Common Sense Census: Media use by Tweens and Teens

mediacensusheaderimage768x202Common Sense Media just released their newest comprehensive study: The Common Sense Census: Media use by Tweens and Teens. I’ve included the infographic of main findings below, but it definitely is worth reading the full report. I have gone into classrooms to teach digital citizenship lessons for the last couple of years and have seen how students have evolved. Combined with what I have learned from our own students this report gives a comprehensive view of our students’ life and the media they are exposing themselves to.

Some important take aways of this census:

This study allows us to see the whole ‘media’ picture.

It focuses on teen and tween media diets, which includes all media, not just screens. It actually shows that ‘Despite the variety of new media activities available to them, watching TV and listening to music dominate young people’s media diets.’ (Key finding #4) It also identifies the challenge we now have with identifying media use or screentime:

With the explosion of devices and forms of content in today’s media landscape, it is increasingly challenging to measure the time youth spend and the things they do with media and technology. Media devices are portable, ubiquitous, and integrated as essential tools in young people’s lives, and what counts as “media use” or even “screen time” is harder to define. It is no longer simple to define what “TV” or even “reading” is. And measuring how much time is spent on a particular activity is not straightforward either, since many media are used in short bursts throughout the day, while others may be on in the background all the time. (The Common Sense Census: Media use by Tweens and Teens, 2015 p.5)

As consumers of media, especially digital media, we know the way we use, view and consume it varies greatly. For example, currently I’m sitting in my home office. The TV is on while I write this post. I am using my smartphone to read and text with family and friends. I also have 13 windows opened in my Chrome browser. Facebook, twitter, Google communities are just a few of the social media sites I’m monitoring at the moment. During the last 4 hours I’ve paused while reading the full report, and writing this post, to play Free Rice, as well as an online civilization game. Multi-tasking with a variety of media is more the norm then the exception for everyone, not just our teens.

Individuals are unique, and our teens and tweens are no different.

To help categorize this uniqueness, this report puts the respondents into profiles dependent on their answers. These profiles include light users, readers, mobile gamers, heavy viewers, video gamers and social networkers.

It isn’t just about the amount of time, but the purpose for their media use: reading, watching, playing, listening, communicating, and creating.

This is very interesting because we would hope that our students aren’t just consuming media, but are rather using the power of digital media to become the creators.  The new semantic web gives us the power to become the creators. Unfortunately this study finds that only 3% of teen and tween media use is creation. Passive consumption, communication and interactive consumption are what our teens are devoting their time to.

For educators this has huge ramifications. I believe what this tells educators is that it is up to us to model and support students in seeing the power of using digital media to produce and create, not just consume.

Parents and teachers are talking to children about online safety and use… but I wonder if they are missing the most important lesson.

This study addresses conversations that are happening between parents and their children. 86-87% of parents are talking to their children about ‘staying safe online’. They are also talking to them about being responsible and respectful online (85-86%). This is a great finding, but it isn’t enough. If on average our teens are spending 5 hours and 55 minutes every day with media, 4 hours 36 minutes with screen media then we need to be educating them on digital literacy and the invisible connections and manipulation that exists in this media. It isn’t enough any more to be educating our youth on digital ‘stranger danger’. Invisible connections and digital consumerism uses unique marketing and propaganda to sell ideas, stereotypes and products. It is so much a part of our lives that we don’t even recognize the manipulation that is being directed by the ‘man behind the curtain’ of the digital world. As educators I think this is where we should be spending our time with our youth. The Frontline documentary Generation Like is a great way to learn about some of this manipulation and its affect on us.



Common Sense Census


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