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Survey Finds Teens Spend Wealth Of Time With Screens


And a new study from a group called Common Sense Media reports that teenagers now spend up to nine hours a day on various screen devices. That's probably more than they sleep. We're joined by Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, which tries to help schools and families navigate media and technology. Thanks so much for being with us.

JIM STEYER: Great to be here, Scott.

SIMON: So what do they watch for nine hours? Or what do they do?

STEYER: Well, first of all, the sheer volume is just phenomenal. The idea that nine hours a day, not including time spent in school, is how much time our teens are spending with media and technology just shows you how central it is to their lives. It's really like the air they breathe now. And they do various different kinds of thing. There's not one stereotype of kid. So some are heavy video game players. Some love social media. Others just like to sit back and watch TV or listen to music. But they are doing nine hours a day, on average, of media and technology, and it is really shaping their lives.

SIMON: You found that girls spend more time on social media than boys. An interesting subfact, if you will, is that, according to your findings, only about 1 of 3 teenagers who are on social media say that they like it, quote, "a lot."

STEYER: That's right, Scott. I think both of those facts are really interesting in terms of this study. First of all, there are stark differences between boys and girls. But the other fact you mention, the fact that only a third of kids like social media, is really startling. It's much more of a utility to them. It's not something like TV or music, that they just love to do and spend time with. It's something they feel they have to do. And I think that's one of most interesting statistics of the entire study.

SIMON: What did you find in this survey, Mr. Steyer, that might worry you the most, as a citizen and maybe a parent?

STEYER: As the parent of four kids and as a longtime educator, I think that stat that really struck me in a concerning way was the fact that 2 out of 3 students in this massive survey said that they multitask while doing their homework. That means that they are reading Shakespeare, hopefully, but also, at the same time, on their Facebook or Instagram account or Snapchatting or texting with their friends. And the truth is, research from some of my colleagues at Stanford and elsewhere make it clear that you cannot concentrate effectively on two things at once and that multitasking gets in the way of concentration and good study habits. So the fact that 2 out of 3 teens in this country are multitasking while doing their homework is a major message to parents and teachers across the country.

SIMON: I'm sorry. I didn't get that last part. I was just posting on Facebook.

STEYER: (Laughter) Yes, and I was too busy texting to remember what I actually said to you, Scott.

SIMON: (Laughter) Are we being just a little bit fussy because I try to remember that Nancy Hanks told her son Abe Lincoln that he spent too much time with his head in a book?

STEYER: So I think what we need to do when we see such a robust study like this is pause, recognize that we are in a new era of childhood and adolescence, and it's up to all of us to try to make this a very positive part of our lives.

SIMON: So are ideas like digital cleanses as, maybe, unavailing as trying to diet that way?

STEYER: No, I actually think that digital cleanses, or just taking time out away from technology and media, are great things. I mean, one of the clear messages from this study is that parents need to be role models around this. If you're constantly glued to your phone or putting that device in the middle of your dinner table, what kind of message is that sending to your youngster? So I think that, in a funny way, parents have as much to learn from this study as kids do. And it's incumbent upon parents to make sure that smart and thoughtful, balanced use of technology is part of parenting 101 in the decades ahead.

SIMON: Jim Steyer, the CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, thanks so much for being with us.

STEYER: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.