Most Czech children and adolescents today have their own smartphone. In a recent representative survey by the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences, only 5% of Czech adolescents reported that they do not spend their free time on a mobile phone, computer or tablet on a weekday (Patočková et al., 2022). In addition, Czech adolescents use their mobile phone more often than a computer to connect to the internet: 84% of Czech adolescents said they use their phone to connect to the internet at least once a day, while only 45% of adolescents use a computer to connect to the interneton a daily basis (Bedrošová et al., 2018).
"What are you doing on the phone again?" That's a question everyone has heard, or asked, at some point. Researchers at Masaryk University sought to find the answer to how adolescents aged 13 to 17 spend time on their smartphones using objectively collected information. Using a special IRTIS App, which study participants had installed on their smartphones between May 2021 and 2022, Masaryk University experts looked at how much time young people spent on specific mobile apps on their smartphones. The time was thus objectively measured by the app and not given by the study participants themselves. "The advantage of objective data is that it is not biased by subjective attitudes, emotions, thoughts or what people remember. The IRTIS App recorded every app that was active on the foreground of the phone when the mobile phone was switched on, such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Chrome and Spotify. This means that if teenagers had multiple apps open at the same time, our app always recorded data about the one they were actively using at the time," explains Michaela Lebedíková, a researcher at IRTIS, a research institute of Masaryk University dedicated to interdisciplinary research on the internet and society (irtis.muni.cz).
Data from the teens' phones showed that the study group spent an average of 4 hours and 11 minutes a day using their smartphones, and teens turned on their phone screens an average of 78 times a day. The adolescents spent the most time on social networking sites - an average of 74 minutes a day. The most used social networks were Instagram (39 minutes per day on average), TikTok (23 minutes per day on average), followed by Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. Nearly an hour a day (59 minutes) was spent with entertainment apps such as YouTube used for playing video content (average 42 minutes a day), Netflix for watching movies and TV shows (3 minutes a day), and Spotify for listening to music (2 minutes a day). Among communication apps, adolescents used Facebook Messenger (12 minutes per day on average), WhatsApp (4 minutes per day) and Discord the most.
„The fact that teenagers use smartphones extensively for entertainment and to communicate with other people in their free time is not worrying. Consuming media content for entertainment is a source of positive experiences and can lead to a subjective sense of improved well-being. We do not believe that even the observed time spent on the phone can automatically be described as risky. Excessive phone use and its negative effects may be a problem, but these are not due to the time spent on the phone but rather to how the phone is used. In this report, however, we did not look at the impact of mobile time on adolescents," says David Šmahel, head of the IRTIS research team. He adds that the risk associated with spending too much time on the phone may be that time on the phone is replaced by other activities that are important for adolescents' well-being, such as sleep or physical activity.
The use of social networking sites, which was the most frequent activity among adolescents in the study, can have both risks and benefits. „The specific effects on users can vary depending on many factors. Adolescents may use smartphones to actively engage in meaningful or supportive interactions with peers and loved ones but also to passively view entertainment content that is presented to the user to hold their attention for as long as possible. Parents should talk to their teens about what they are doing on their phones, or even watch what content they are watching,“ says David Šmahel.
The study also revealed that during the morning, adolescents spent an average of about 9 to 11 minutes on their phones in every hour between 8 am and 12 pm. They then spent the most time on social media and entertainment in the evening between 6 pm and 11 pm. Thus, the intensity of phone use at bedtime was higher than at other times of the day, possibly to the detriment of sleep for some adolescents. Šmahel adds that "for this age group, the recommended sleep time is 8 to 10 hours. In this respect, the role of parents and setting rules for evening phone use is important, especially for younger adolescents."