Our Kids Aren’t Web-Addicted, Says Study. Are We?

A new Nielsen study says that adults use the Internet more than teenagers do. Is that actually a surprise?

A new Nielsen study says that adults use the Internet more than teenagers do. Is that actually a surprise?


The Wichita Eagle summarizes the study as disputing “several popular notions about teens, including the idea that teens ‘use 10 media screens at a time.'” The report, titled “How Teens Use Media,” has several head-scratching “takeaways,” according to CNet. One of them: “teens love the Internet, but spend far less time browsing than adults.” (The ratio: 11.5 hours a month to adults’ 29 hours.)


Did we actually think kids loved the Web more than adults? Lest we forget, teenagers spend most of their days in a classroom, in front of a teacher and a whiteboard. The phones we give them, if they have mobile Internet plans enabled, are usually of the get-three-free variety that come with a family plan–they’re not the Exchange-enabled BlackBerry Bold you swindled out of your corporate cell phone plan. When they get home, a teen might have their own computer, or they might share a family machine. But chances are they have a TV or an Xbox beckoning too–to say nothing of homework and an early bed time. (Last I checked, most of the high schools in my area start around 7am. Pretty rough.)

It’s only we adults that are at PC workstations all day, looking for ways to avoid doing work or trolling the boundaries of our IT-installed browser filters. And we’re the only ones who have social networks big enough to require a tool like Twitter. Imagine how absurd Twitter seems when you only have 10 or 12 friends, not a network of 300+ coworkers, college buddies and colleagues? As the Eagle reports: 

Charley Cleaver, a 15-year-old Iola girl who lives with her mother in Wichita during the summer, said she agrees with the study, that teens’ media habits don’t differ much from older people’s. Charley uses her Facebook page to connect with friends “every once in a while” but doesn’t read blogs or use the micro-blogging site Twitter. “I don’t see the point of it,” she said.

Of course she doesn’t. At age 15, she’s only really been a conscious, autonomous social being for about five years. How many other people on this earth could she possibly know? 

If you had to guess who the real Internet heavy-users are–based on more careful stereotyping–who would they be? Well, we all know that the two biggest time-sucks on the Web are social networking and shopping. The heavy users would be seriously social people, sure, but they’d also have to have some time on their hands. And since shopping online takes a certain amount of expendible capital to make it fun, they’d also have to be financially secure.


If you guessed middle-aged women, you’d be right. In a study Nielsen performed back in May, the most influential surfers on the Net were so-called “Power Moms,” women 25 to 54 with at least one child. They are “heavy online shoppers” in whose lives social networking “plays a prominent role.”

There are more misconceptions about teen media use, too, the Neilson study says. Teenagers watch less online video than most adults.

So the question is: why do we assume that it’s our kids whoare whittling away their hours on social sites when, in reality, it’sus?

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.