A recent report found striking differences in the use of media by teens between races and income classes. /Photo iStock
A recent report found striking differences in the use of media by teens between races and income classes. /Photo iStock

There are “striking differences” in media use among varying demographics with teens and tweens from lower-income families and those from higher-income families, according to a new report.

The report — “Connection and Control: Case Studies of Media Use Among Lower-income Minority Youths and Parents” — dives into the “how” and “why” of disparities in media use among tweens and teens of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and economic statuses.

It revealed that black teens use an average of over 11 hours of media a day, compared with almost nine hours among Latinos and eight and a half among whites.

The only way to understand the true impact that devices and screen time have on children is by getting a close look at their experiences, authors of the report said.

Through carefully documented case studies, Common Sense examined the real lives of 11 black and Latino kids between the ages of 11 and 15 from lower-income households and said it gained a greater understanding of the role of media in their lives.

The report shows how media is used to make space from, and create connections to, family. Other key insights from the report included children’s media practices are connected to their living situations.

A 14-year-old in the study recently moved to an unsafe neighborhood where he has no friends, limiting his social activities. He was more of a video gamer in his old home, where he lived in a safer neighborhood and had his friends and his brother and a video game console.

But in his new place, he watches TV almost all day, having lost his console plug in the move.

The report concluded that media and technology can support children’s well-being.

Television shows, movies, music, games and books provide entertainment, which is particularly important when a child is living in a neighborhood with a high violent-crime rate.

Mobile devices provide powerful tools for meaningful communication: A 14-year-old girl living with her foster mother uses her phone to text frequently with her birth parents, saying these exchanges help her feel “relieved.”

Parents’ management of their children’s media use varies depending on their own level of tech-savviness.

One parent in the study feels comfortable checking her children’s search histories, turning the data on her children’s devices on and off on a schedule and installing software to monitor her children’s whereabouts. Another foster mother with less knowledge about digital media called the phone company directly to put her daughter’s phone on standby when she wanted to take her data privileges away.

The findings also illustrate how integrated internet access is in the everyday lives of modern teens and tweens, the authors said.

One 15-year-old uses three apps to cut down on her travel time to and from school.

A 14-year-old uses YouTube to learn new dances.

Another 14-year-old uses her computer to look up the GPA and PSAT requirements for one of the universities she would like to attend. And an 11- and 12-year-old brother-sister pair living in a shelter have to wake up at 4 a.m. some days to access the shelter’s Wi-Fi when it works best.

“These case studies show how critical internet access is to all children’s success in the 21st century, practically, socially and academically,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “Especially when facing the challenges of poverty, they need to be able to connect.

“We see in these family portraits how valuable it is for kids and parents to use media together and to have parents engaged in their children’s media habits,” he said.

The study shows that parents use a variety of tactics to control their children’s media use.

Digital citizenship resources can help parents and children develop healthy media practices even if children don’t always appreciate their parents’ efforts, as illustrated in one case study where 12-year-old Andre’s mother does not allow either him or his brother to have Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or any other social media app on their shared phone.

That is certainly disappointing for Andre, who bemoaned that even “my grandma has Instagram. That is a shame.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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