Media consumption among US children has skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic, and has remained elevated despite the recent resumption of remote and/or in-person schooling across the country. This change is apparent across a wide variety of media formats (e.g., online, TV, social) as well as types of content (e.g., video, games), and seems to be driven by a desire for both entertainment and camaraderie amid the isolation of COVID-19-related social distancing.
Volume / Frequency
- A preponderance of research journals (e.g., Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking), parental surveys (e.g., SuperAwesome), medical institutions (e.g., Reid Health) and credible media outlets (e.g., The Conversation) report that overall media consumption among American children under 12 years of age has increased significantly amid the pandemic.
- As a whole, Reid Health asserts that kid’s screen time in the US has “surged by up by 60%” amid the coronavirus outbreak.
- Similarly, a March 2020 survey by SuperAwesome covering American children ages 6 to 12 years old revealed that kids are spending “at least 50% more time in front of screens daily,” with many spending “most of the day” consuming media during the early part of the pandemic.
- Corroborating these findings, a July 2020 article published in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that almost all US parents reported that their children between the ages of 6 to 12 years were spending more time-consuming media, ranging from “a lot” (34.9%) and “some” (33.7%) to a little (24.1%).
- Meanwhile, The Conversation added that while some children’s additional screen time has been directed towards online schooling, at least 30% of parents reported that their children were engaging in an “extra four hours or more of non-school related screen time per day.”
Format of Media
- While phones, tablets and other online formats appear to be the most favored methods for US kids when consuming media during the pandemic, social media and TV have also experienced dramatic increases in usage among this cohort, per Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, SuperAwesome, ParentsTogether, Nielsen and TechCrunch.
- As highlighted within the following SuperAwesome survey results of American kids ages 6 to 12 years old, tablet traffic has “nearly tripled,” phone traffic has “nearly doubled” and digital traffic has increased by “nearly 70%” since the start of the pandemic.
- An April 2020 survey by ParentsTogether corroborated these findings by reporting that the average amount of time US children spent online has doubled from 3 hours to nearly 6 hours per day, with approximately half (48%) of children spending 500% more time online compared with before the crisis.
- Additionally, the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking similarly found that US children between the ages of 6 to 12 years old have demonstrated a “particular increase in video/phone use over social media and other formats.”
- It appears that the increase in phone use among US kids has been largely directed towards “entertainment apps,” per the following June 2020 data from TechCrunch.
- However, the most favored social media sites among American children have also experienced measurable increases in the average time allocation by kids amid the pandemic, per additional data from TechCrunch.
- Moreover, April 2020 reporting by Nielsen revealed that US children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old have “dwarfed” many other age groups with their increased TV viewership during the coronavirus outbreak. Supporting data is provided under the label “P6-11” within the following chart.
- Meanwhile, this up to 300% increase in TV viewership among American kids during COVID-19 has been most frequently occurring online through streaming services and digital technology, per the following graphic.
Type of Media
- Within these formats, American children under 12 years of age are primarily consuming video and games, followed by podcasts, per research journals (e.g., Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking), parental surveys (e.g., SuperAwesome, ParentsTogether, TechCrunch) and credible media outlets (e.g., Digital Remedy, InsiderRadio).
- SuperAwesome’s March 2020 survey of US kids between 6 and 12 years old revealed that their top content choices during the pandemic have been streaming video, watching regular TV and playing games.
- This finding regarding online video preferences was corroborated by separate research (e.g., Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking) and reporting (e.g., Digital Remedy), which confirmed that American children have “particularly increased in video” and “streaming content” consumption.
- Among the most streamed video brands by this cohort during the pandemic are “Netflix, followed by Amazon, YouTube, Apple and Disney+.”
- In terms of non-streamed TV content, The Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon have also “experienced massive upswings.”
- Meanwhile, TechCrunch also found a clear spike in game playing among US children during the pandemic (see spike in yellow line below).
- Additionally, podcast industry trades such as Inside Radio have separately reported an “increase in both downloads and unique listeners” for kid-targeted podcasts for nearly all of its kid-targeted podcasts.
- In particular, brands such as PRX and Pdtrac have reported an increase between 17% and 55% in downloads for kids podcasts since February 2020.
- American children and their parents indicate that the dramatic spike in media consumption during the pandemic is largely influenced by a desire for both entertainment and camaraderie amid the isolation of COVID-19 social distancing and lockdowns, according to the latest available surveys (e.g., Nielsen, SuperAwesome, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking).
- Nielsen found that American children are turning to the media out of a “longing for distraction and camaraderie” as well as “some sense of normalcy.”
- The researcher added that this longing stems from loneliness, as they struggle with virtual teacher and friend interactions across many states.
- The journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking adds that children’s technology use has also been particularly high in cases where parents are demonstrating greater levels of anxiety related to the pandemic.
- Although there is limited, publicly available information on demographic differences in media consumption among American children amid the pandemic, available research suggests some notable distinctions by gender, geography and race.
- For example, in terms of the type and format of media consumed, American boys have largely driven the increase in gaming activity during COVID-19, whereas girls are largely responsible for increases in social media use among their cohort, particularly with chat apps.
- From a geographic perspective, the increase in television consumption among kids has been heavily weighted in the Eastern United States, with Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. for example seeing up to a 550% increase in viewership among children between the ages of 6 and 11.
- Although the Central US has also experienced “impressive jumps” in kid viewership during the pandemic, the West Coast has seen “more modest, though still substantial” increases.
- Meanwhile, August 2020 reporting by NBC News and Nielsen asserts that the Latino population in America is consuming “social media, mobile apps and other digital platforms at higher rates than the general U.S. population.”