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Most kids were online quite a bit before the pandemic. You may have watched a viral video, laughed at a meme or gif that your friend texted to you, played games online, or video chatted with out-of-state grandparents or cousins. A lot of kids are connected, but the last year and a half changed things in a big way. Being online went from being a convenience to becoming a necessity for kids and families.

The number of older kids who said they were almost constantly online jumped from 24 percent in 2015 to 45 percent in 2018—and that was before the pandemic! According to the Pew Research Center, another 44 percent of the kids ages 13–17 surveyed in 2018 said they went online several times day—that means that roughly 90 percent of teens were constantly or regularly online!

According to that Pew Report, a third of teens reported that it was easier to connect with a friend online than to attempt to see them in person—again, before Covid! And nine in 10 teens reported using their phones to pass time. 

The most popular social media platforms for teens are YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, according to Pew Research. In a Statista report from March 2020, the most popular social media platforms for kids under 11 are TikTok and Snapchat, with kids ages 9 to 11 most likely to use these platforms.

Education & More Online

As much as kids enjoy being connected online, did that undergo a major change when kids were forced to go online for school and to stay connected with friends and family? Of course, but kids were adaptable.

During the pandemic families were forced to find the best online option for students, but many were looking to go back to a brick and mortar school, says Digital Elementary Principal Allison Voltaire. She works with ASU Prep Digital and says that this school year has a whole different vibe from last school year. 

“Families are grateful to have virtual opportunities for their children” this year because it gives them greater flexibility, Voltaire explains. She says a strength of online education is the personalization available.

“We can personalize instruction so easily in a digital platform. We can make accommodations for students right from home,” she says. So a need for preferential seating or extra time on assignments is easier to accommodate, she says. The logistics are more manageable online, too, Voltaire says. She notes that online school is “perfect for so many students because they really, truly learn at different rates, and we’re able to provide that so easily online.”

According to Voltaire, “Young kids have adapted extremely well” to online school, but she adds that careful attention to social-emotional learning is key. She says this may involve students playing together virtually, having a cooking lesson or a pet show, or going outside to look for rocks or clouds for a science lesson.

“One thing we knew…we did not want them online for seven hours a day,” says Voltaire. So educators DEVISED ways to have students get up, get moving or go outside. “We call it Sun Devil Learning Time and that is their independent work time,” she explains.

Voltaire says that it is important for kids, parents or caregivers to have patience—with themselves, with each other and with teachers, too. Her tips for successful online learning are for students and their family members to remember the camera and watch their surroundings. She says kids are now used to having a camera pointed at them, but others in the house sometimes forget!

She advises students and parents to “give yourself a learning curve. Allow yourself time to get comfortable and explore…and learn the platform” that your school uses.

Kids Are Connected

According to the 2020 Common Sense Census, which looked at media use by kids 8 and younger, in pre-pandemic times kiddos were in front of screens about two and a half hours a day. Children between 5 and 8 averaged just over three hours of screen time per day. Most kids spent that time watching TV or videos (73 percent). Gaming accounted for 16 percent of young kids screen usage, and reading on an electronic device took just 3 percent of the time.

The Common Sense Census gathered its data up until mid-March 2020. So while it found that kids under 8 spent only 1 percent of their screen time on homework or video chatting, those activities definitely ratcheted up during the past year. The pandemic changed not just the quantity, but the quality of screen time for kids, says Kimberlee Swisher, clinical assistant professor with the ASU School of Arts, Media and Engineering.

“One thing that came out of the pandemic that’s really good about kids’ screen time is that people put out all of these amazing free resources,” says Swisher. She notes artistic content like Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems, author/illustrator of the Elephant and Piggie books, and Don’t Let the Pigeon… books. Swisher says that Adobe and AutoCAD also made creative tools more accessible for students, often through their schools.

Does Making Media Make Kids Savvy?

Does using digital tools and being comfortable online make kids more media savvy? “I think students now have a much higher level of visual literacy than perhaps before, because they see these things all the time,” says Swisher. She says kids who make their own media can get a better perspective—it makes them producers of media rather than consumers of media.

“Even if you think about something that seems kind of mundane like Instagram stories, they now have these image editing capabilities built right into them. You can make these image collages and draw on them and really craft these really visual messages,” notes Swisher. 

Swisher says digital tools can give kids new ways to be creative and REFUTE the false message she believes society too often tells kids—that they are either artists or not. She feels that time spent creating content or viewing along with a parent can be valuable, as opposed to time a kid spends alone watching videos. 

The Common Sense Census noted that watching online videos on sites like YouTube increased dramatically for young kids between 2017 and 2020, from 19 to 39 minutes a day. And that doesn’t count time on streaming services or on demand. More than a third of kids 8 and younger watch online videos every day. Nearly half, 46 percent, of kids ages 2 to 4 have their own tablet or phone. Over two-thirds, 67 percent, of those 5 to 8 have their own device. 

Swisher says being connected to the internet and having so much content on demand is a game changer for kids and parents. “That kind of ‘always on, any time, always available’ makes it much harder for parents to restrict,” she says. 

According to Swisher, when kids learn to make their own media, like building a meme, it’s a way to “easily, quickly and cheaply” deliver a message “into this pixel format or gif format that can say a lot of things without words, and it’s fun, like cartoons.” 

The Good, The Bad and  the Ugly—Cyberbullying

Do kids find their online experiences to be mostly good or DETRIMENTAL? Pew Research reports that 45 percent of teens say their social media use does not have a positive or negative effect on them—31 percent claim it is mostly positive and only 24 percent say it is mostly negative.

To keep things positive, kids and parents should take steps to prevent cyberbullying. This form of harassment can include hurtful texts or emails, or posts of embarassing images or unkind comments.

To find tips to combat cyberbullying, and to read other internet safety advice, visit:



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