A new study led by the University of Cincinnati has found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, media use increased among tweens (children between 9 and 13 years of age). Although most parents agree that children’s use of technological devices should be controlled, these concerns appeared to take a backseat in 2020, when the pandemic forced parents to make accommodations for children spending more time at home than in physical social settings.
“Family life was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as members adjusted to living, working, and learning at home. Media and technology became a central tool to manage these activities simultaneously for different family members,” wrote the study authors.
In order to examine screen time among tweens, the researchers used a survey in which parents were asked to provide details about their children’s daily routine.
The majority of the parents (87 percent) reported that their tweens were using media more during the pandemic than before, 19.5 percent said that they created a social media account for the child (such as TikTok, Facebook, or Instagram), and one in five parents (21.2 percent) indicated that they have purchased a household tech device, such as a laptop or a Chromebook.
According to the results of the survey, parents who were more worried about the pandemic reported that their tweens used media more. The study also showed that established gender patterns were maintained, with boys generally playing video games, and girls watching videos.
“With more tweens using media during the pandemic than before, it is more important than ever to reconsider our notions of ‘how much’ is ‘too much’ and really focus on what they are getting out of this use,” said study lead author Nancy Jennings, an expert in children media use at the University of Cincinnati.
“For years, many media scholars have begged adults to look beyond just the amount of time children use media and look at what they are doing with it and how it was impacting their lives,” she explained.
For instance, media often helped tweens connect with their peers during the times when they were isolated in their homes, and offered distraction from the fear and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Thus, according to Jennings, researchers “need to take a deeper look at our kids’ media use and move beyond the sheer quantity of time spent with media.”
The study is published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media.