More Kids Spending Lots of Time on Screens

Survey finds big jump over past 6 years in media availability, use for youngest Americans

From the WebMD Archives

By E J Mundell

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Oct. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- In recent years, young American children have gone from spending 5 minutes a day on some sort of mobile device to spending 48 minutes a day doing so, new research shows.

And while just 1 percent of kids aged 8 and under had their own tablet device six years ago, 42 percent of them now have one, according to the study from the nonprofit group Common Sense Media.

"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," James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, said in a news release.

The report is based on survey responses from a nationally representative sampling of nearly 1,500 U.S. parents of kids aged 8 or younger, questioned early in 2017.

Among the survey's findings:

  • Nearly all U.S. families (95 percent) have a smartphone, up from 41 percent in 2011, and 78 percent own at least one tablet, up from 8 percent in 2011.
  • Even though pediatricians recommend against it, nearly half of young kids often or sometimes watch TV or play video games in the hour before their bedtime.
  • About 10 percent of young kids has a "smart" toy that connects to the internet, while 9 percent have a voice-activated virtual assistant device in the home, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home.

Divisions in mobile technology use by family income are also fading. For example, because most lower-income families now own at least one smartphone, there's almost no difference in uptake of the technology between higher- and lower-income households, the survey found.

In fact, kids in lower-income homes, or homes with less-educated parents, actually spend more time now viewing "screen media" than their more affluent or educated peers, the research showed.

The rate at which poorer families in the United States have acquired mobile or tablet devices, and downloaded apps, has also risen sharply over the past six years.

"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."

But he stressed that technologies can also have a downside.

"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," Steyer said.