The latest on 0-to-8-year-olds’ media use

Traditional (passive) consumption time still wins out over the interactive kind by more than 5 to 1.

By Anne Collier

Passive consumption – watching TV and DVDs – is still by far the dominant form of media use among little children in these digitally charged times. US children 0-8 spend an average of 1:40 watching television or DVDs in a typical day, “compared to 29 minutes reading or being read to, 29 minutes listening to music, 17 minutes using a computer, 14 minutes using a console or handheld video game player, and 5 minutes using a cell phone, video iPod, iPad, or similar device,” according to Common Sense Media, which just released a study of little kids’ media use. “Despite the proliferation of new technologies and platforms, television continues to dominate children’s media use,” but the study also found that “everything from iPods to smartphones to tablet computers are now a regular part of kids’ lives, with kids under 8 averaging two hours a day with all screen media.” Here are other key findings from CSM:

* 42% of children under 8 have a TV set in their bedroom.
* 52% have access to a cellphone, video iPod, or iPad/tablet.
* 38% have used one of those mobile devices, including 10% of 0-1-year-olds, 39% of 2-to-4-year-olds, and 52% of 5-to-8-year-olds.
* In a typical day, 11% of 0-to-8-year-olds uses a smartphone, video iPod, iPad, or similar device to play games, watch videos, or use other apps – and that 11% does so for an average of 43 minutes a day.

Let’s drill down now

Unfortunately, many parents and commentators may view the use of additional types of screens or devices in strictly a cumulative way – unrealistically adding it all up and conflating it all to “screen time.” People of all ages, including the youngest, use different “screens” for different purposes, often leaving some of them on in the background while engaging in other activities, on- or off-screen (see this study I posted about a year ago). And any parent with a 3-year-old in his/her present or past knows that most children that age will be doing other things during that 1:40 of TV or DVD time.

To her credit, one commentator applied some critical thinking: Edutopia blogger Audrey Watters cites CSM’s statement that an “app gap” is developing (with 10% of lower-income children having “a video iPod or similar device in the home” vs. 33% of upper-income children). “But while the ‘app gap’ might have a nice, rhyming ring to it, is this really a new phenomenon?” Audrey writes. “How is this different from the digital divide? Are children without apps missing important educational opportunities? How is that different from children without access, more generally, to computers or to the Internet?” Those are good questions.

It’s important that future research zoom in on <em>how</em> children use various media and devices, what the environments they’re used in are like, and what parents’ objectives are in providing for their use. For example, which devices and media are used for entertainment, education, edutainment, keeping a child occupied for a few minutes, and/or brain development; which devices for what purpose(s); and in cars or homes, at school, on trips, on playdates, etc.? With the “Zero to Eight” study, CSM launched its planned multi-year Program for the Study of Children and Media to be directed by Vicky Rideout, who was formerly with the Kaiser Family Foundation (see “Major study on youth & media: Let’s take a closer look”).

Other coverage

The Washington Post‘s headline reads “Parents use smartphones as high-tech pacifiers for toddlers,” suggesting that using media as a “babysitter” is something new. According to the New York Times, “the report found that despite more than a decade of warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics that screen time offers no benefits for children under 2,” the CSM study found that “only 14% of the parents surveyed” said their pediatrician had talked about kids’ media use with them. Meanwhile, move over Goodnight Moon, now there’s Goodnight iPad, a parody by “Ann Droyd,” the pseudonym of children’s book author and illustrator David Milgrim, reports a Washington Post blogger separately.

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