Perspectives, data on little kids’ media use

By Anne Collier

Research findings characterized negatively in the US as “the digitization of young childhood” could be seen as a sign of growth and prosperity in countries where the Internet is mostly mobile. Even in the US, the growth of young children’s use of cellphones and tablets could be saying as much about American families’ shift away from computers to the mobile platform as it does about early childhood. That occurred to me as I looked at coverage in other countries.

The headline in the Times of India was “Kids’ total ‘screen time’ gone down,” while CNN’s was about how “iPads and iPhones dazzle babies.” They were referring to Common Sense Media’s latest findings on digital media use by children ages 0-8, showing that the number of them who have ever used a mobile devices has nearly doubled over the past two years (38% in 2011 up to 72% now), but their overall “screen time” has dropped.

“Overall, the average total screen time among 0-to-8-year-olds is just under two hours a day (one hour and 55 minutes), compared with two hours and 16 minutes in 2011,” I found in in Yahoo News.

What that suggests is what you might call “the mobilization” (or tabletization?) of early childhood, rather than “the digitization” of it, as characterized by Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer, a characterization that US parents might find concerning. In other key findings…

  • Compared to 8% in 2011, 40% of all US families with kids 0-8 now own a tablet (e.g., iPad).
  • 75% of 0-to-8-year-olds have access to “some sort of ‘smart’ device,” according to the Yahoo News report, up from 52% in 2011
  • 38% of kids under 2 have used some sort of mobile device
  • The amount of time kids have used phones or tablets ahs tripled since 2011 to 15 min. a day, on average (those who use a mobile device daily spend 1:07 on it)
  • As many 0-to-8-year-olds have tablets as their parents did in 2011 (7%).
  • The Common Sense report found that TV “still reigns supreme in children’s media lives” ¬– nearly 60% watch TV every day – and TV is still “the most widely used platform for children’s educational content.”

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to “limit kids’ media use to 2 hours a day,” “discourage media screen exposures in children under 2,” and keep Internet-connected devices out of kids’ bedrooms, CNET reports. In a revised policy statement issued this week, the AAP offered parents these other suggestions too: “Model effective ‘media diets’ to help children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume”; “Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values”; and “Make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices,” keeping screens out of kids’ bedrooms.

Related links

  • “Toddlers on touch screens: Parenting the app generation” in the Christian Science Monitor
  • “Touch and grow for iTots: One-third of undertwos have used mobile devices” in the Canberra Times
  • Another way to think about media: Media is no longer just something through which content is communicated, like a book, periodical, blackboard, TV set, etc. It’s not even just a tool for making things (like stories, videos, blogs, photos, etc.). It’s also an environment – but not just an environment around the acquiring of knowledge or for creating or expressing ourselves. It’s an environment for collaborating with others. And then not just collaborating but participating in something much larger than, say, a classroom project – participating in society. Media is a social context – an environment for participating in and changing the world (from my post last month: “Why kids need more, not less, play”).