Study finds teens spend an average of 70 hours per week on phones

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


American teenagers are spending an average of 10 hours or more per day on phones and internet-connected devices, not including watching television, according to a new report titled “TEENS AND TECH: What Difference Does Family Structure Make?”

The researchers from the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute surveyed 1,600 American teens between the ages of 11 and 18 who were in 5th through 12th grade in May 2022. The participants reported using devices for an average of 10 hours and four minutes per day on activities such as social media, video chat, texting, shopping, and gaming.

That’s a total of about 70 hours a week online. The report did not factor in the amount of time spent watching TV.

The study, which claims to be the first of its kind, links family structure and digital media usage, finding that children living in “intact families have an advantage.” These teens spent about 9 hours a day or 63 hours per week using digital media when compared to teens living without one or both biological parents, who spent up to 11 hours a day or 77 hours a week online.

However, this advantage was not found when parents’ device usage was considered. According to the teen respondents, about 15% of parents used their phones and devices “almost constantly” during conversations, meal times, or family events. When categorized by family structure the difference was slight. About 14% of teens in intact families reported their parents used devices constantly during these activities, while 17% of teens in single-parent families and 12% of teens in stepfamilies reported almost constant use during these times.

It is clear that device and social media use is having a direct and negative impact not only on children in the United States but also on parents.

The study found that in 70% of families, mothers were responsible for setting the rules around screen time and monitoring their children’s media use. In single-family homes or families with a stepparent, mothers set the rules almost 80% of the time. However, among intact families, 30% of teens say their dad is the main person in the house for rule-setting and 68% say it is their mom.

The number of children and adolescents with access to smartphones and social media continues to increase each year, despite research showing that limited screen time, particularly in young children, is beneficial both psychologically and physically.

High screen time activity for adolescents has been linked to depression, loneliness, lack of sleep, negative body image, and dangerous behaviors that are promoted by algorithms. Frequent use also puts teens at risk for exposure to pornography, sexting, and cyberbullying.

The negative effects of screens have also been connected to delays in social and emotional development, decreased attention span, and are associated with poor sleep, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, poor stress regulation, impaired vision, poor posture, and neck pain.

The study authors issued a series of recommendations for parents to keep kids safe with online use. However, some parents are disconnected from what their children are really doing online. According to one survey, 75% of parents believed that their child hadn’t seen pornography when in reality 53% of their children had been exposed.

Parents are the gatekeepers for what enters the home to keep their family safe. They should carefully consider their children’s smartphone and social media use, as well as their own.

Researchers recommend parents keep electronic devices out of kids’ bedrooms at night, limit screen time, delay smartphone access until age 16-to-18, keep kids off social media as long as possible, and encourage friendships with families that set similar boundaries for their children.

Editor’s Biblical Analysis

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

As parents, we must be ever vigilant that we are training our children to be Godly men and women. The internet, social media, and video games are full of influences that can be detrimental to spiritual growth. Jesus told us that we must not let darkness into our eyes, which are the “lamp of the body” (Matthew 6:22-23).

Even when they seem harmless, most things available on our phones and other screens have no value in the training of Godly minds. When we, or our children, are spending the majority — or even a large amount — of our waking hours under the influence of things that are of no value to our spiritual growth, we are allowing those things to become idols that severely damage our walk with Christ.

In the family structure, the Bible is clear that the husband is the head of his wife (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:22-23). That does not mean that husbands and fathers are handed unmitigated power to make decisions for their families. On the contrary. He is called to build up his children with discipline and instruction (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21) and provide for his household (1 Timothy 5:8). Scripture commands that husbands be understanding and honor their wives (1 Peter 3:7). They are called to love their wives “as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

If fathers are to obey the Word of God and properly instruct, discipline, provide for, and love their families as Christ loves the church, they must be spiritual leaders who set down ground rules for the spiritual protection and discipline of their families. That includes limiting time spent on screens and closely monitoring what is allowed to influence their children and consume their time.