Available research indicates that this cohort has dramatically increased their screen time since March 2020, and has sustained these increases well into the resumption of virtual/remote school activities. Unlike younger children, American teens have favored social media and traditional broadcast television over alternative outlets, but have similarly increased gaming and podcast activities.
Volume / Frequency
- Almost all American teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 years old have increased their media consumption since the start of the pandemic, according to the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
- Specifically, almost half of US teens report increasing their media usage “a lot” (44.3%), while a similar portion report dedicating “some” (27.9%) or a “little” (14.8%) more time towards these activities.
- While there is limited information to corroborate the general media consumption behavior of American teenagers since the start of the pandemic, or reveal how it may have shifted since the return of school in the fall, the latest research by CNBC (October 2020) and the Children’s Hospital of Chicago (September 2020) indicates that teens continue to engage with their preferred media outlets and content at levels that are significantly above 2019 and early 2020.
- Associated details, such as the continued spike in social media usage among this cohort as well as increased gaming activity are detailed further in the following sections.
Format of Media
- US teens have dramatically increased their usage of social media as well as traditional broadcast television since the start of the pandemic, according to researchers (e.g., Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Nielsen) and parental surveys (e.g., Children’s Hospital of Chicago).
- The journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found as early as July 2020 that American teens between the ages of 13 and 18 years old demonstrated a “particular increase in social media” usage amid the coronavirus outbreak.
- Since then, the Children’s Hospital of Chicago reported in September 2020 that almost two-thirds (63%) of American teenagers were continuing to engage with social media at levels meaningfully higher than earlier this year.
- Meanwhile, Nielsen found in April 2020 that US teenagers between the ages of 12 to 17 years old were also favoring television, and that this cohort “blew past the rest” in terms of its elevated consumption through this channel.
- Specifically, this group showed increases in TV usage as high as 250% amid the pandemic, as identified within the following graphic under the label “P12-17.“
- Notably, American teens favored traditional broadcast television over online streaming and other consumption opportunities.
Type of Media
- Despite this focus on social media and television in terms of media channels, CNBC, InsideRadio, MoneyControl and YPulse indicate that some of the most popular content among US teens since the start of the pandemic has been gaming and podcasts.
- As recently as this month (October 2020), CNBC reported that American teenagers are spending more money on gaming than ever before, with expenditures in this category increasing substantially despite a 9% overall drop in purchases by this group during 2020.
- In conjunction with this data, CNBC also found that more than half (57%) of teens are “spending more time playing video games” during COVID-19, and that almost one-third (31%) are now playing video games on a daily basis.
- Meanwhile, the latest available survey data (e.g., YPulse) as well as industry trades (e.g., InsideRadio, MoneyControl) also highlight the growth in podcast downloads among American teenagers since the coronavirus outbreak.
- For example, MoneyControl asserted in April 2020 that podcasts had become the “most preferred source of entertainment” for this cohort.
- Corroborating the popularity of podcasts among this group, a March 2020 survey by YPulse found that US teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 years old generally listen to podcasts “with some frequency” (41%) or “weekly or more” (25%).
- In particular, US teenagers currently favor podcasts in three key genres: comedy, music and sports.
- In a fashion similar to American children, US teens are most likely to consume media in response to loneliness and a desire to remain in contact with others while social distancing.
- According to Statista, the large majority of American teenagers have used social media (66%), video chat (66%) and/or messenger apps (48%) to “stay connected to friends and family they no longer see in-person during the coronavirus pandemic.”
- Similarly, USA Today reported that social media has been particularly important among this group, given that tools such as Snapchat and FaceTime have provided them some of the social interactions that are “crucial at the developmental stage in their lives.”
- Meanwhile, the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking reports that teen technology use has also been particularly high in cases where parents are demonstrating elevated levels of anxiety related to the pandemic.
- Lastly, while there is limited data to indicate demographic differences in the levels of media consumption among US teens during the pandemic, available research suggests some distinctions by gender, geography and race.
- Most recently in October 2020, Chain Store Age reported that male teenagers in the US deviated from their female peers by prioritizing gaming as their second-highest spending priority, thereby driving the overall increase in game activity among American teenagers during the pandemic.
- Additionally, from a geographic perspective, the increase in television consumption among teens has been much higher in the Eastern United States, with New York and Washington, D.C. seeing as much as a 400% increase in viewership among teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17.
- Lastly, August 2020 reporting by NBC News and Nielsen highlighted that teens and other members of the Latino population have been more likely to consume digital media than the “general U.S. population.”