Now that school’s out for summer—if not technically out for forever, as noted American philosopher Vincent Damon Furnier (a.k.a. Alice Cooper) once opined—it’s worthwhile to consider the media consumption habits of teens during the dog days of the season.
While most tweens and teens typically have a more limited media diet—particularly watching television and playing video games—during the school year, by the time summer rolls around, many parents say children ages 17 and younger are starving to get their fill of all kinds of media. According to a survey conducted last summer by Harris Interactive, almost half of parents surveyed said their children consume more television (49%) and play more video games (46%) in the summer months, while a quarter of parents said their children consume much more of these types of media and entertainment during the summer months (23% and 24%, respectively).
The fact that teens have increasingly parked themselves in front of various media screens is no surprise; technology has effectively become a “sixth sense” for many of them, as demonstrated in a 2011 report from McCann Worldgroup. In the report, teens were given a list of items, including their car, their passport, their phone and their sense of smell, and told they could save only two. More than half (53%) of respondents ages 16 through 22 said they would give up the sense of smell if it meant they could keep an item of technology, most often their phone or laptop.
Losing an essential sense, though notably not sight or hearing, is apparently worth the sacrifice for lots of teens. After all, without those senses, there’d be little reason to hang onto the media devices that are largely dependent on video, audio and on-screen content. In the social media context, this makes even more sense in the summer when teens are no longer spending hours per day at school with their peers. Social media consumption during the summer gives them a way to keep connected to those they normally see daily.
This ability to share events, thoughts and photos, even when teens are not physically in the same place, is unprecedented. It not only bridges the distance between friends and summer jobs or family car trips to the next state, but also to a previously inaccessible world that is suddenly at teens’ fingertips. In fact, a 2009 study by eMarketer estimated that 72% of teens rated themselves a light, average or heavy user of social networking outlets. It’s safe to assume that with more time outside of the classroom during the summer months, more time will be spent using these outlets to stay connected to friends, family and acquaintances.
While many parents may see more time in front of flickering screens as a negative use of free time, heightened media consumption in the summer may actually be a positive way for teens to become more globally and socially aware.
American kids have traditionally spent their summers working at a seasonal job, hanging with friends or going to summer camp—in other words, enjoying life without teachers, classes and assignments “getting in the way.” However, I’ve noticed recently that my friends’ kids are looking for a much broader summer experience. Pre-college trips after high school graduation to Africa, Europe and Latin America are all the more common. Or maybe they just seem to be because of the mass-sharing tools seen on Facebook and Twitter. In either case, social media has expanded the way teens see and share the world with their peers.
Social media, therefore, makes far away and exotic destinations seem that much more accessible and less intimidating than they once did to many young Americans, allowing teens that opt for the hometown summer experience to see a little piece of the world through their friends’ eyes.
While parents might perceive the increased amount of time their teens’ spend in front of media screen during the summer months as a waste of time, it might be better to think of it as a way for teens to stay connected with their friends and do some exploring beyond their own backyards.