New research reveals the online lives of youth during the pandemic

Ottawa, ON - November 3, 2022 - New research conducted during the pandemic by MediaSmarts found that close to nine in 10 Canadian youth (86%) ages nine to 11 have an account on at least one platform that requires users to be 13 or older, and almost half of young people are worried they spend too much time online.

These findings are shared in MediaSmarts’ new Life Online report, which is the first in a series of reports to be released as part of the latest phase of Young Canadians in a Wireless World, a national survey of 1,058 youth ages 9 to 17 conducted in Autumn 2021.

The study also found that:

  • Most youth (77%) have their own smartphone. Most were given their first phone between the ages of 11-13 by a parent/guardian so that they could keep in touch with them.
  • Many youth use digital devices for longer than the Canadian Pediatric Society’s screen time guidelines recommend, and 80% of youth keep smartphones in their bedrooms with them at night. (Research shows that keeping phones in bedrooms has been associated with increased daytime tiredness among teens.)
  • Almost half (44%) of youth are worried about how much time they are spending online. However, more than half (59%) would be unhappy if they had to go offline for a week.
  • Most parents (60%) aren’t spying on their kids online but are instead creating household rules and guidelines to be followed together with their children. Nine in 10 youth say their parents trust them to make good decisions when they’re online.

More findings are available in this one-page summary and in the full report.

“Our research shows that contrary to stereotypes, young people are self-aware when it comes to their screen use and are concerned about the screen time increases they are experiencing over the course of the pandemic," says Dr. Kara Brisson-Boivin, Director of Research at MediaSmarts. “But it’s important to remember that technology is a social lifeline, and this research shows youth are using their devices mostly to connect with friends and family.”

“It’s also encouraging to hear that parents are using strategies outside of tech-based surveillance to manage their kids’ screen use. This helps promote trust and makes it more likely for youth to come to their parents/guardians when they need help online.”

This new research provides the important insights needed to continue to support positive tech use in youth. Some strategies MediaSmarts recommends for parents, guardians and trusted adults to consider based on this new research include:

  • Develop a strategy around social media platforms as a family and give kids a safe way to explore these platforms.
  • Encourage a joint account with a parent/guardian if a youth under 13 wants to try out a social media platform.
  • Set up household rules around devices and internet use: there is a strong correlation between having rules in the home and how kids behave online.
  • Canadian Pediatric Society screen time guidelines recommend avoiding screens for at least one hour before bedtime and refrain from bringing devices into the bedroom.
  • Follow Canadian Pediatric Society advice to address screen time issues by following the 4 Ms: minimize screen use, use screens mindfully, mitigate media effects and model good media use.

Life Online is part of Young Canadians in a Wireless World (YCWW), Canada’s longest running and most comprehensive research study on young people’s attitudes, behaviour and opinions regarding the internet, technology and digital media. Five more reports based on the Phase IV data will be released from now until June 2023 on topics including: Online Problems, Privacy, Online Meanness and Cruelty, Sexting and Digital Media Literacy.

Phase IV of the Young Canadians in a Wireless World study was possible thanks to funding from CIRA

MediaSmarts is Canada’s charitable centre for digital media literacy. For over 27 years, MediaSmarts has advanced digital media literacy in Canadian schools, homes and communities.

Tricia Grant, Director of Marketing and Communications
613-224-7721 ext. 231