The Extent of Digital Media Use (in General and After Lights Out)

The growing use of digital media in the general public, and especially in children, is expressed in a wide variety of devices and usage options (like browsing the internet, content consumption, messaging, social network browsing, listening to music, accessing email and games). The American Pew Research Institute reported that according to data collected at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, 87% of American adolescents had access to a computer, 81% had access to digital game consoles, 58% had access to tablets, 73% had smartphones and 30% had basic cellphones.

In a survey conducted in 2015 in the United States, it was found that on a typical day, children aged 8-12 use screens (not for educational purposes) for more than 4.5 hours, and those aged 13-18 use screens for more than 6 and a half hours, and the majority (57%) use screens for more than 4 hours per day.

איור של מגוון שימושים בטלפון הסלולרי


In general, a steady increase in digital media use amongst children and adolescents has been described, most pronounced with respect to cellphone use patterns. The main reason for this increase stems from the fact that smartphones can now be used for a wide range of activities such as internet browsing, content consumpti

on, messaging, social network browsing, listening to music, accessing emails and games, and therefore they have become the most common medium during both the day and the night.


In this context, we note two prominent trends characterizing young people’s digital media use patterns. The first trend relates to the types of device used for content consumption and their scope. In the past the most common device used for content consumption was the television, however new data show that today people spend more time on cellphone apps. According to a study conducted in the United States it was found that the amount of time spent watching television did not change between 2012-2014, but the amount of time spent using computers and tablets doubled. The findings of a study conducted by Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, also showed that television content is viewed on additional screens, and that tablets and smartphones are becoming alternatives to the traditional television screen.


                                            * “Ofcom’s Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015”


The result of the study, published in 2015, showed that the amount of time that children spent online increased from 4.4 weekly hours in 2005 to 11.1 hours in 2015 (at ages 8-11) and from 8 hours to 18.9 hours (at ages 12-15). In the latter age group, youth spend almost 3.5 hours more a week on the internet than they do watching television (18.9 hours versus 15.5 hours, respectively). Also, in 2015 12-15 year olds reported that they would feel the lack of their cellphone more than they would feel lack of a television, in contrast to their reports in 2005 that they would feel the lack a television more. In 2015 a preference was found for content consumption via YouTube over television programs amongst 12-15 year olds.


The second trend relates to social media networks and apps, which nowadays constitute a significant platform for adolescents to form their identities, communicate with peers and build a new social network. In the American Pew study from 2015 it was found that 76% of adolescents (ages 13-17) used at least one social network (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat).


The use of devices while doing homework is an additional characteristic of digital media usage amongst children and adolescents. There is evidence that digital media usage whilst performing academic tasks has negative effects on the learning process.


A clear trend that has been observed over the years is the infiltration of digital devices into the bedroom, which has influenced children’s and adolescents’ usage habits, especially before sleep. In the report of the National Sleep Foundation in the United States in 2006, which studied sleep patterns amongst 1,602 adolescents aged 11-17, it was found that 97% of them had at least one digital device in their bedroom, and that half of them had 3 devices in their bedroom. It was also found that the number of digital devices adolescents had in their bedrooms increased with age. Also in Australia, 70 % of young people reported having at least 2 devices in their bedrooms.

In the survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2011, it was found that young people (aged 8-13) are thought to be heavy users of communications technologies before bedtime, compared to people aged over 30 years old. The predominant use before bedtime was of cellphones (72%), but they also used music players (64%), computers and tablets (60%), and video games (23%).

It was found that adolescents commonly send and receive text messages before sleep every night / nearly every night (56%). About a third of this age group reported that they go to sleep with the cellphone when it is not turned off or in silent mode, and as a result of this a fifth of them wake up a number of times per night because of messages or emails received on their cellphones.

Differences were found in the variety of digital media used, also across genders. For instance, in a survey conducted amongst Norwegian youths it was found that about an hour before bedtime boys play more games on game consoles whilst girls talk more on the phone and listen to music players.

In a study of cellphone usage patterns amongst 454 American youths (aged 12-20) in 2014 it was found that 63% of the respondents took their device with them to the bedroom, 57% kept them turned on whilst sleeping and 37% sent text messages during the night. Almost half of the subjects (46%) used a device as an alarm clock at least twice a week, and 8% woke up from a text message after they fell asleep.


The Scope of Digital Media Use Amongst Children and Adolescents in Israel

In a study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2002 that investigated sedentary behaviors amongst adolescents in 35 developed countries, it was found that adolescents in Israel watch the most television (over 3 hours per day in the middle of the week and over 4 hour per day on the weekend). In addition, they were ranked in the top four places in computer usage. In a social survey conducted by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics in 2010, it was found that amongst 81% of the population with children aged under 18, their children use computers at home.


In a cross sectional study published in 2010, conducted by researchers from Haifa University amongst 449 8th and 9th graders in Northern Israel, it was found that the average amount of time spent watching television was 2:46 hours in the middle of the week and 3:12 hours on weekends.

The average time spent playing computer games was 1:17 hours in the middle of the week and 1:30 hours on weekends, and the average time spent browsing the internet was 2:24 hours in the middle of the week and 2:34 hours on weekends. In addition, 60% of the students reported having a television in their bedroom and 60% reported having a computer in their bedroom, with 97% of them connected to the internet.


In a study conducted in August 2013 just before the return to school, it was found that about a fourth of children aged 6-8 possess a cellular device. The study also found that 66% of children aged 9 – 11 and 91% of those aged 12-14 have a cellular device.

In the years 2012-2013 The Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit at the Gertner Institute implemented an educational program in a number of middle schools in central Israel titled: “The mobile generation – educated cellphone use amongst children and adolescents in Israel”.

The survey that accompanied the program, conducted amongst 1,688 7th and 9th graders, showed that 71% of the children played on the computer for more than an hour a day and that 43% of them for more than two hours per day. 73% of the children watched television for more than an hour per day and 40% of them for more than two hours per day.

In addition, 96% of the students reported using a cellphone on a typical day for talking and messaging.

Data on the 2012 school year relating to Israeli adolescents’ leisure activities after school hours were collected using high school acclimatization questionnaires (10th and 11th graders). The findings showed that the most common activities amongst adolescents were spending time with their families, doing homework, watching television and mainly computer usage (79% - 86% of the students reported that this occupied at least an hour of their free time on a typical day).

According to annual data on “Children in Israel 2016” 83% of children aged 8-15 have a smartphone at their disposal. The most common uses were WhatsApp (51%), games (41%) and conversing on the phone (37%). About a fourth uses the phone for over 5 hours per day. 24.4% of 6th graders, 27.9% of 8th graders and 22.8% of 10th graders played computer games for 4 hours or more a day.



*This review was prepared with the assistance and guidance of Prof. Tamar Shochat, The Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, Haifa University and Mr. Amit Green from the Assuta Health Center Sleep Institute.



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Updated: 15.7.2018