We recently posted an article about a mammoth report published November 2015 by Common Sense Media about the way young people in the United States use media and technology. Conducted over six weeks in the early spring of 2015, the study included 2,658 children age eight to eighteen. Tweens were defined as children age eight to twelve. Teens were defined as children age thirteen to eighteen. The four primary goals of the Common Sense Media Census were to document:
- The frequency of tween and teen media use
- The time tweens and teens devote to media use
- The level of enjoyment tweens and teens derive from media use
- Differences in tween and teen media use by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status
In our article, we offered analysis and commentary on the first two bullet points: the frequency of media use and the time tweens and teens devote to media use. We also presented salient facts and figures on what devices tweens and teens use most and the way they use them – passive, interactive, or creative. We ended by identifying the six types of tween media users and five types of teen media users. What we didn’t cover in that article – but will in this one – was an interesting aspect the last bullet point above. We’ll look at the differences in tween and teen media use by socioeconomic status. If you like, click here to read that article before reading this one. However, reading that piece is not necessary for understanding this one.
Socioeconomic Differences in Tween and Teen Media Use
The people at Common Sense Media included this category of analysis for an important reason. They want to to understand how educators, health care providers, and policy makers can best reach individuals from all socioeconomic brackets. If the people and organizations responsible for disseminating critical content know where, how, and how much everyone consumes media, then they have a better chance of reaching more people. The idea being that knowledge is power. And the more citizens in our country receive important information, the more powerful our society will be.
They found distinct differences in media consumption along socioeconomic lines. They separated respondents into three categories:
- Lower-income families: annual income of less than $35,000 per year
- Middle-income families: annual income between $35,000 and $100,000 per year
- Higher-income families: annual income of over $100,000 per year
The differences were most pronounced in two particular areas of analysis. First, the total time spent by teens consuming all media. Second, total time spent by teens consuming screen media. Here’s the data:
Time Consuming All Media
- Lower-Income teens spent an average of 10 hours and 35 minutes per day consuming all media.
- Middle-Income teens spent an average of 8 hours and 47 minutes per day consuming all media.
- Higher-Income teens spent an average of 7 hours and 50 minutes per day consuming all media.
Time Consuming Screen Media
- Lower-Income teens spent an average of 8 hours and 7 minutes per day consuming screen-based media.
- Middle-Income teens spent an average of 6 hours and 31 minutes per day consuming screen-based media.
- Higher-Income teens spent an average of 5 hours and 42 minutes per day consuming screen-based media.
What the Differences Mean
At this moment, the media experts at Common Sense offer no explanation as to why there’s such great disparity in media consumption between teens in lower, middle, and higher income families. However, knowing these facts most certainly begs the question an important question. Why do teens from lower-income families consume close to three hours per day more media – total and screen – than teens from higher income families? In the coming months, we hope to see more studies from Common Sense that address and offer potential answers to this question. For now, we can reflect on the present information, explore and discuss possible explanations ourselves, and patiently wait for more data to arrive.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.