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A Day in the Life of a High School Teen

The way adolescents spend their time can strongly influence their health later in life. For youth to maintain a healthy future, they need plenty of sleep; good nutrition; regular exercise; and time to form relationships with family, friends, and caring adults. Additionally, the time adolescents spend in school and in after-school activities with peers and adults can advance healthy academic, emotional, social, and physical development. The amount of time they spend on screens and in social media may also influence adolescents’ overall well-being.

The American Time Use Survey, collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, contains detailed information about how individuals ages 15 and older use their time and provides a picture of a typical weekday and weekend day for a high school teen during the school year. Here we specifically analyze how adolescents ages 15-19 who are enrolled in high school spend their time.1

How do U.S. high school students spend their time each week?

Weekday

 During the week, adolescents spend most of their time on sleep and education. Education includes high school classes, homework, and extracurriculars.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). 2017 American Time Use Survey [Data set]. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/tus/#tables

Weekend

On the weekend, adolescents spend most of their time on sleep and leisure. Leisure activities include screen time, in-person socializing, and exercise.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). 2017 American Time Use Survey [Data set]. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/tus/#tables

Gender Difference

On the weekend, adolescents spend most of their time on sleep and leisure. Leisure activities include screen time, in-person socializing, and exercise.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). 2017 American Time Use Survey [Data set]. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/tus/#tables

 

Sleep. Once adolescents reach high school, they need eight to 10 hours of sleep for healthy development.2 On average, high school teens report sleeping nine hours on week nights and considerably more on weekends (11 hours and 16 minutes). There are no gender differences in amount of time teens spend sleeping. 

Education. High school teens spend, on average, seven and a half hours each weekday, and a little more than one hour each weekend day on educational activities. Teens spend time on a variety of educational activities related to being high school students, including attending classes, participating in extracurricular activities (like student government, band practice, and clubs but excluding sports), and doing homework. They may also do educational activities outside of school, such as enrolling in additional classes for personal interest and preparing for college entrance exams. 

During the week, male and female high school students spend similar amounts of time on education, but adolescent females spend about 30 more minutes doing educational activities per day on weekends than their male peers. 

During weekdays, high school students spend most of their educational time in high school classes (almost six hours, on average). High school males spend roughly an hour per day on homework on both weekends and week days (54-55 minutes). Female high school students, on the other hand, spend more than two hours on homework per weekday, and a similar amount as male students over the weekend. High school students spend less than 10 minutes per weekday each on extracurriculars, other classes, and other educational activities, on average. There are no gender differences on these other educational activities. 

Work and volunteering. Less than one-quarter (22.7 percent) of high school students are in the labor force during the school year.3 According to the American Time Use Survey, 13 percent of adolescent males and just 5 percent of adolescent females are working. Among those working, adolescents work an average of three and a half hours per weekday and five and a half hour per weekend day. Working during the school year has both benefits and risks, which depend on the type of work performed, how many hours are worked, and how long employment lasts. Working is most supportive of healthy adolescent development when it is of moderate intensity and is sustained over time.4

Volunteering is related to many positive outcomes, including youth feeling connected to their communities, performing better in school, and engaging fewer risky behaviors.5 Adolescents spend an average of approximately 10 minutes per day (weekdays and weekends) volunteering during the school year. 

Leisure. Although adolescents are busy with school, they also spend a sizable amount of time in leisure activities, especially on weekends. High school teens spend four hours and 19 minutes on leisure activities on an average weekday and six hours and 21 minutes on weekend days. Adolescent males spend more time doing leisure activities on weekends than females, on average (six hours 53 minutes compared to five hours and 44 minutes). Leisure activities include socializing face-to-face, playing sports or exercising, and screen time. 

  • Exercise. Adolescents need one hour or more of physical activity per day.6 High school students aren’t meeting that goal, on average. Females and males spend an average of 43 minutes exercising on weekdays and 49 minutes per day on weekends. 
  • In-person socializing. During adolescence, young people tend to shift the focus of their social lives from their families to their peers. Adolescents learn how to form healthy relationships and explore their identities with their peers through socializing. High school students spend an average of 38 minutes per weekday and an hour and six minutes per weekend day hanging out and attending social events. Adolescent girls spend, on average, 45 more minutes socializing in-person than adolescent boys on weekend days. 
  • Likely screen time. A large proportion of high school students’ leisure time is spent on screens. High school students are increasingly using technology to communicate through texting and video chatting. They also spend a substantial amount of time on media, including watching TV, on the Internet, and listening to or playing music. Altogether, high school students spend almost two hours per weekday (one hour and 51 minutes) and almost three hours per weekend day (2 hours and 59 minutes) on screens. On weekends, adolescent males spend almost an hour (52 minutes) more than adolescent females on screens. These estimates likely underestimate high school students’ screen time, as they do not include time during which students are multitasking, such as doing homework while texting with friends.7
  • Other leisure activities. High school students spend the rest of their leisure time reading and thinking, playing games, doing arts and crafts, pursuing hobbies, and attending arts, entertainment, and sports events. High school students spend, on average, an hour and six minutes per weekday and an hour and 25 minutes per weekend day on these other leisure activities. Adolescent males spend approximately an hour more on these activities during both weekdays and weekends than their female peers. 

Daily activities. High school students also spend about two hours per day on routine personal activities including grooming, eating, and drinking. Adolescent females spend about 20 minutes longer grooming per day than adolescent males, on both weekdays and weekends. 

Religious activities. Just five percent of high school students report spending time on religious activities. Among those that do, high school students spend an hour and 14 minutes on weekdays and two hours and 43 minutes on weekends, on average, attending or participating in religious or spiritual activities. 

Other activities. In their remaining time, high school students take care of household activities such as cooking, caring for pets, doing chores, running errands, caring for household members, applying for governmental services, and conducting personal care and travel. These activities take up 41 minutes per weekday, on average, and one hour and 50 minutes per day on the weekend. Adolescent females tend to spend more time on these other activities than adolescent males, especially on the weekends when they spend an additional 52 minutes per day on these activities. 

Footnotes


1 The 2017 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) contains 257 respondents ages 15-19 who are enrolled in high school. Seventeen percent of these respondents (n=44) are missing data for at least one minute in the day. They are missing up to 180 minutes. We dropped 15 cases that were missing information for more than one hour. Unweighted Fisher’s exact tests found that these cases do not differ on key demographic variables from cases that are included in analyses. Unweighted tests were used because ATUS’s weights adjust to person days and result in an inflated sample size.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). How much sleep do I need? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019). College enrollment and work activities of recent high school and college graduates—2018. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/hsgec.pdf
4 Mortimer, J. T. (2010). The benefits and risks of adolescent employment. Prevention Research 17(2), 8-11. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2936460/
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Physical activity basics: How much physical activity do you need? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/index.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fphysicalactivity%2Fbasics%2Fchildren%2Findex.htm
7 The ATUS is not well-designed to capture adolescent screen time. ATUS asks respondents to list a single activity for each time throughout the day. If respondents indicate that they are doing multiple activities at a time, they are asked to report their primary activity. If providing child care, a secondary activity is also recorded. This method likely underestimates the amount of screen time that high school students have throughout the day. For example, if an individual is texting friends while completing homework, that time is recorded as completing homework. The measure of computer and Internet use is based on how technology is used, rather than whether it was used. For example, homework done on the computer is counted as doing homework rather than time spent on a computer. Additionally, updating a blog is recorded as writing for personal interest. Finally, playing computer games and board games are recorded in the same category. We have categorized this as leisure time, but not screen time. In contrast, listening to music is recorded in the same way as playing music. This is included in both leisure and screen time.
Content created by Office of Population Affairs
Content last reviewed on July 17, 2018