Teens Spend ‘Astounding’ Nine Hours a Day in Front of Screens: Researchers

Kids spend more time on digital devices than with parents or teachers 2:55

American teenagers spend an "astounding" nine hours a day with digital technology, entertaining themselves with streaming video, listening to music and playing games, researchers reported Tuesday.

And "tweens" aged 8 to 12 are spending six hours with media, the non-profit group Common Sense Media reports.

That's is in addition to using digital gadgets for homework, the group reports in its five-year update on kids' use of media.

"The fact that tween and teens in the U.S. are using an average of six to nine hours' worth of media a day is still astounding," the group says in its report.

"The sheer volume of media and technology that American kids spent time with his absolutely mind-boggling," James Steyer, CEO and founder of the group, told NBC News.

"It shows you that kids spend more time with media and technology than they do with their parents, time in school, or any other thing. They are literally living in a 24/7 media and technology world."

The group surveyed 2,658 8- to 18-year-olds in February and March for the report, which it says represents children across the nation.

"On any given day, American teenagers (13- to 18-year-olds) average about nine hours of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework. Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours' worth of entertainment media daily," the report reads.

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Most of this involves screen time - 4.5 hours for tweens and nearly seven hours for teens.

One worrying finding: kids are trying to multitask when they're doing homework and schoolwork and the evidence is strong that this just doesn't work, Steyer said.

"One of the most interesting findings in this landmark research study is the fact that two thirds of teens think that they can multitask while doing their homework and they're wrong. They simply can't," Steyer said.

They're doing just what too many adults do - switching over to texts and social media while working, and interrupting their thought processs, the survey found.

"The evidence from some of my colleagues at Stanford and the Harvard (education) school is clear. You cannot multi-task and do your homework effectively, but two out of three American teens think that you can," he added. "It gets in the way of your ability to concentrate and to synthesize information well."

But schools are encouraging kids to use computers and perhaps enabling this counterproductive behavior, Steyer said.

"I think that's really the bottom line message is that while technology used wisely, can be an extraordinary learning tool and basic part of our kids' education, we have to teach kids that they should focus on the learning process and not constantly switch back and forth between Facebook and Instagram and texting and whatever," he said.

Ironically, all this tech could also be hurting the children's ability to communicate, the report concludes.

"There is nothing better than face-to-face communication for understanding emotions and empathy and really being able to communicate with people," Steyer said.

"When you are constantly on your phone or texting people in an anonymous or very impersonal way, it's a very different communication and studies show that that can impact intimacy, empathy, and some of the basic elements of human communication," he added.

"Even the old-fashioned telephone is in many cases a lot better than texting or email because you can feel the emotion in someone's conversation."

Other findings in the report:

  • Old-fashioned TV and music rule - 2/3 of tweens watch TV every day and 2/3 of teens listen to music daily
  • Most use is passive: 39 percent of a teen's time using computers, tablets and smartphones is passive, such as watching a video; 26 percent is spent on communication; 25 percent is interactive and 3 percent is creating content.
  • Boys game, girls still read more. "Teen boys average 56 minutes a day playing video games, compared with only seven minutes for girls. On the other hand, teen girls spend about 40 minutes more a day with social media than boys on average," the report reads.
  • There are socioeconomic and ethnic divides. "Lower-income teens average more than eight hours a day with screen media compared with 5 hours and 42 minutes among higher-income teens, a difference of two hours and 25 minutes a day," the report finds.
  • Teens and tweens both feel social media is something they have to do to keep up, but it's not their favorite activity.

And the next generation may be set up to spend even more time with devices. A report released Monday found even babies spend time with devices such as tablet computers and smart phones.