Kids are spending more time on mobile devices – but screen time overall has remained about the same
David Royse | LedeTree
Nearly half of American children under eight years old have their own tablet device, a huge spike in just the last six years, according to a new study by a nonprofit media and technology watchdog.
The newly released data from Common Sense media show the number of kids who have their own tablet is now at 42 percent, up from just 1 percent in 2011 when tablets were in their own infancy.
The survey also found the amount of time kids are spending on mobile devices has increased dramatically, now averaging 48 minutes per day, more than triple the 15 minutes per day kids spent on mobile devices in 2013 and up from five minutes per day in 2011.
Something important to note, however, is that the survey shows that much of that increased time on mobile device screens has simply replaced time that had earlier been spent on other electronic devices.
The share of screen time on mobile devices versus other devices, such as TVs, has increased substantially, but the overall amount of media use is about the same as it was in 2011.
Still, the study shows it’s now easier than ever for young kids to boost their screen time – because they’re increasingly doing it on mobile devices that don’t necessarily require an “appointment” with a more static device such as a television. Kids can now get their screen time in the car, or at school and extra-curricular events.
“In today’s tech-driven world, where things are moving so quickly, it is really important to step back and take a hard look at what technology kids are using and how they are using it,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. “Over the last six years, we have seen massive growth in media use and tablet ownership, and we haven’t even begun to experience the explosion of new technologies like virtual reality and voice-activated assistants in our homes. If we want to ensure our kids develop well and are successful in life, we have to make sure they get the most out of tech while protecting them from potential risks — and that means paying close attention to the role media is playing in their lives.”
The survey found that mobile devices have pretty much permeated American life – finding that an astonishing 95 percent of families with children under eight now say they have a smartphone, up from 63 percent just four years ago. Nearly eight in ten families with young children have at least one tablet.
Common Sense bills the study as the only one of its kind. The group also tracks children’s use of older media platforms, both electronic and print.
The study also found that 72 percent of families with young children have subscription video services, such as Netflix or Hulu, more than the 65 percent who have cable TV. And kids are watching YouTube.
The survey found children under eight are spending an average of 17 minutes a day watching videos from sources like YouTube.
The survey did find that screen use among very young children – those under two – appears to be trending downward, from nearly an hour a day in 2013, to 42 minutes a day this year, a decline attributed by the authors of the study largely to the decline in the use of DVDs.
The study also had findings that some may celebrate: the explosion in personal mobile devices has narrowed the “digital divide.”
Since 2011, the gap in high-speed internet access between higher-income and lower-income families has been reduced from 50 percentage points to 22 percentage points. And the gap in overall mobile device ownership has virtually disappeared as low-income families now increasingly have smartphones.
“It is promising to see many of the gaps closing when it comes to access to technology and devices among all segments of our population,” Steyer said. “Technology is integral to success in our world, and every child deserves access to it. Over the last several years, we have seen the digital divide and app gap closing, which is a very positive development for our country.”
There remains, however, a divide in how families from different income strata use technology. Children from lower-income homes, those with household incomes below $30,000, spend an average of 3 hours, 29 minutes per day with screen media, more than an hour per day more than those kids from middle-income and high-income families. In families making between $30,000 and $75,000, kids under eight are spending 2 hours, 25 minutes a day on screens and in families making more than $75,000, kids are spending under 2 hours a day on screens.
When looking at kids in the same economic stratus, the study found no difference in usage based on gender, or on race and ethnicity.
KIDS STILL READ?
Kids under eight spend, on average, about a half an hour a day reading or being read to, the study found. That amount, the study noted, has remained remarkably steady over the last half decade. There’s a gap in income there, too, however. About 65 percent of high income families report that their children read at least some every day, while the number in low income families is just 40 percent.
The survey also found that about one in 10 American kids lives in a house with a virtual reality headset. About the same percentage lives in a home with a voice-activated virtual assistant such as Amazon Echo or Google Home.
Common Sense is launching a series of public service announcements featuring Will Ferrell that challenges parents and kids to put down devices during dinner, and replace it with in-person conversation.