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Children as young as 8 are using social media more than ever, study shows

Children and teens in America are spending more time than ever using screens and social media, and the number of hours spent online has soared during the pandemic, according to the results of a survey released Wednesday (March 23).

The study, published by the nonprofit research organization Common Sense Media, found that total screen use among teens and tweens increased 17 percent between 2019 and 2021, faster than in the previous four years. On average, daily screen use among tweens (ages 8 to 12) rose to five hours and 33 minutes from four hours and 44 minutes, and to eight hours and 39 minutes from seven hours and 22 minutes for teens (ages 13 to 18).

The increases reported by the survey most likely reflect the difficulties families endured with school, childcare and social interaction during the pandemic, experts said. Of particular concern to some who track screen time has been an increase in social media use among children ages eight to 12, on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, although such platforms require users to be at least 13 years old due to a law prohibiting companies from collecting data from children.

The findings “don’t surprise me,” said Diana Graber, the founder of Cyberwise, an adult website that aims to help young people use technology safely, and the author of Raising Humans in a Digital World. During the pandemic, she said, children turned to screens for entertainment and to connect with friends, as many had no personal school or activities.

But, she added, “the sheer number of kids using social media when they are so young makes me cry,” she said. “These social media apps are not designed for children.”


While technology use increased across the board, screen use was highest among children from low-income and children of color, which makes sense given that these families were most affected by the pandemic, said Devorah Heitner, the founder of Raising Digital Natives. and the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.

“Low-income children were hit harder by school closures,” said Dr. Heitner, and may also have had fewer after-school activities during the pandemic, and so they were home and had more time for fencing. Because low-wage workers were also more likely to have to work in person than other workers, parents in these families may have been home less, meaning “their children were left more to their own devices, so to speak,” Ms Graber added.

The report also found that boys spent more time on screens than girls, perhaps because of their affinity for gaming, Ms Graber said, which can be time-consuming.

Experts said the increase in screen usage in itself was not necessarily a cause for concern. For example, when kids used screens to connect with friends during the pandemic, it was most likely a good thing, said Dr. heitner.

But the new survey, which surveyed 1,306 people ages 8 to 18 online, suggested that children weren’t primarily using screens to keep in touch with peers. For example, teens reported watching videos or TV on average for more than three hours a day and gaming nearly two hours a day, but only 20 minutes a day video chatting with friends.


It’s important to think about what kids don’t do when they spend so much time on screens. “You worry if it replaces activities like sleeping, family time, reading, chores — other things that are positive for kids,” said Dr. heitner. “That’s certainly a real concern.”

These concerns are not limited to the parents of teens. The survey found that 64 percent of tweens reported watching online videos every day, and 65 percent reported watching TV every day.

Of the tweens, 38 percent of respondents said they use social media, up from 31 percent in 2019.

It is concerning that children under 13 use social media at all, Ms Graber said. Social media platforms often contain graphic and scary content that young children don’t want to see yet. “I did TikTok this morning and live images of the war in Ukraine are all over that app,” she said.

Children may come across pornography, images of self-harm or messages that promote disordered eating, added Dr. Heitner to it. Even Roblox, which many younger kids use, has recently had problems with explicit content.

Another concern is that misinformation is rife on social media platforms such as YouTube, Ms Graber said. “A young kid — they have no idea what’s real and what’s fake,” she said. “So they can fall down this rabbit hole of misinformation and find a very confusing world ahead of them.” She noted that YouTube, in particular, had a worrisome algorithm designed to expose viewers to more extreme content over time.

It’s also not healthy for younger children to be exposed to the social complexities inherent in social media, said Dr. heitner. “Social comparison and the potential to see events that you are not involved in or that you miss can be painful,” she said.


One exercise that Ms. Graber is doing with her digital literacy students – and that parents could try at home as well – is to ask children to analyze how they spend their time over the course of a single day. “They are often amazed at how much time they spend on screens,” she said.

She then asks them to make a bucket list of 25 things they would do if fencing didn’t exist and then suggests they take a 24-hour vacation from fencing, encouraging them to that time to complete some bucket list tasks.

“Believe it or not, they usually come back the next week and say, ‘You know what, that felt good,'” Ms. Graber said. The new Common Sense Media survey found that just 34 percent of teens said they use social media “a lot,” so many teens already have reservations about it and may welcome the break, she noted.

Parents may also want to sit down with their children and sign a technology agreement, Ms Graber said, outlining various details, including when and where children can use screens and for how long. For example, maybe younger kids can only watch YouTube when a parent is in the room with them.

“For a lot of kids, that’s going to be a good warning — ‘Oh, maybe I’m not going to click on the gross thing because my mom is there,'” said Dr. heitner. When younger children only use screens, parents can limit their use to apps that adults can more easily control, such as Netflix or Disney+.

Perhaps most importantly, parents should have regular conversations with their children about screens and social media. Ask them which YouTube influencers they like and why, Ms Graber suggested — or, if they’re on other platforms, ask them what they watch and what interests them.

Parents should explain the importance of privacy and that what children share will reflect on them and their reputation, said Dr. heitner. It can also be helpful to discuss the performative nature of social media so that kids understand that people “post when they’re having a great time, or when they’re having a good hair day, and that doesn’t necessarily reflect their constant lived reality,” she said.

Whenever possible, parents should also try to use screens with their children. When adults use platforms with their children, they are given the opportunity to share their values ​​and expectations. “Go online with them and ask questions and be curious and try not to judge,” Ms Graber said. “Just like you would watch out for them on the corner or in the park, so you watch out online.”

By Melinda Wenner Moyer © 2022 The New York Times

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Brain Holt

Brain Holt is an American journalist and news anchor for the weekday edition of login-daten and Dateline login-daten.

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