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The average amount of time young Americans spend watching online videos has doubled since 2015

Jenny Anderson
By Jenny Anderson

Senior reporter, Editor of How to be Human

YouTube claims that it is for kids 13 and older. Kids claim otherwise: According to a new survey by Common Sense Media, a US nonprofit, 76% of American kids age 8-12 say they use the online video site. And only 23% of these tweens say they have ever watched YouTube Kids, which features filters and parental controls on content.

It’s not just tweens: since 2015, the share of young people watching online videos every day has doubled, surpassing every other shift in media habits. ”It’s absolutely clear that children younger than 13 use the platform a lot, and they like it a lot,” said Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media.

These kids now spend about an hour watching online videos a day, double the amount in 2015 when, a similar survey was taken (with a different set of kids, but each nationally representative). As kids embrace YouTube more, they are turning away from TV: the share of teens watching TV on a TV set fell from 48% in 2015 to 24% in 2019. “We used to have more shared family experiences,” Robb said. “That’s more at risk because we have more individualized media experiences.”

Common Sense Media surveyed more than 1,600  8- to 18-year-olds in the US about their use of and relationship with all media (from reading books in print and listening to the radio to using social media, watching online videos, and playing mobile games). It asked them what they do all day, and what they like to do.

The survey shows that the amount of time kids spend with all media has increased slightly in the past four years, with tweens averaging about six hours a day and teens ten hours a day. On average, tweens in the US spend just under five hours a day with screen-based entertainment media (which does not include screens used in school or for homework) and teens spend just under seven and a half hours.

The creator movement has not taken off

Tech enthusiasts claim that kids are not just blindly consuming media: they are creating it. But according to Common Sense’s report, they’re not really creating that much. Only around one in 10 in either age group say they enjoy “a lot” things like making digital art or graphics (10% of tweens and 9% of teens), creating digital music (4% of tweens and 5% of teens), coding (4% of tweens and 3% of teens), or designing or modifying their own video games (4% of tweens and 6% of teens).

Passively consuming media is another story: 67% of tweens and 58% of teens enjoy watching online videos “a lot,” a big jump from four years ago. The headlong embrace of online videos suggests, again, that data privacy laws and consent among kids need an overhaul. “We are in need of a rethink, about what kind of data companies can collect on children, and on what kind of consent kids can meaningfully give,” said Robb.

Girls vs. boys

It is no surprise that boys prefer video games to girls, but the magnitude of the difference is stark. Video gaming is boys’ favorite media activity; for girls, it’s one of their least favorite. Music and social media are another story, with girls more actively engaged in these activities than boys.

Reading, of course, falls low on the list of “media” kids love. The average amount of time they spend reading is about a half an hour a day, almost exactly the same as in 2015. This is dwarfed by the hours spent with screen-based entertainment media.

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