Teens Get Hundreds of Smartphone Notifications Daily: Study

3 min read

Sept. 27, 2023 – Some kids pick up their smartphones only a couple of times a day, and other kids check their notifications as many as 498 times in 24 hours. Usage ranges from a few minutes to 16 hours daily, according to new research based on data tracked with permission.

The top uses during the school day were social media, YouTube, and gaming. Many said TikTok is irresistible. One 11th grader described it as ideal for when you have 10 free minutes. 

“You don't really have to go in, like on YouTube you have to go in, you have to search for something, you have to find a video that you wanna watch,” the 11th grader said, according to the report. “And on TikTok, it's really just there. You can open it kind of whenever you want. And even on a short amount of time, you can still watch at least two or three videos.”

The report was published by Common Sense and the University of Michigan Medicine’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Common Sense is a nonprofit organization devoted to creating technology and entertainment guidance for families and schools.

Some teens reported proactively using "do not disturb" features and wanting to actively manage how their phone affects their day. Common Sense estimates that 43% of tweens, who are between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, have smartphones, and up to 95% of teens ages 13 to 18 have them.

Kids in the study included 203 11- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. who agreed to have their smartphone activity tracked by an app for one week. The participants were only Android smartphone users, because Apple phones do not share data with researchers in the same way that Android phones do. Among the questions researchers sought to answer were how often kids get notifications, how much they use their phones during school and at night, and how much tension or frustration they have about their smartphones and how they manage that.

The study found that:

  • In a typical day, teens receive 237 notifications, and about 25% of them arrive during school and 5% arrive at night.
  • The median amount of phone use during school is 43 minutes.
  • School phone policies vary widely, from school to school and from classroom to classroom, and aren’t always enforced.
  • Teens use their phones to wind down before sleep, sometimes listening to music, but sometimes they push their sleep time later because they spend time with their phone to catch up after a hectic day.

“The good news is, many young people reported they have grown savvier about their phone's attempts to draw them in, and they're taking steps to protect their digital well-being, like setting time limits and prioritizing certain types of notifications,” wrote Common Sense founder and CEO James P. Steyer, JD, who has a background as a civil rights attorney. “But the business model of these apps and devices hinges upon young people picking up their phones and engaging with them as much as possible, and it's clear that teens are struggling to set boundaries.”

The report authors suggested looking with your child at notification settings in your own phone and theirs, and discussing which apps send the most and how to adjust the settings to cut out extra disruptions. Talk about it in terms of aligning the settings with your child’s own needs.

The authors also suggested that “stopping to reflect on how your phone tries to get your attention can lead to great discussions in families and classrooms, and it can give users a feeling of control over how much they use their smartphone.”