New Survey Reveals How Much Time Kids Really Spend on Mobile Devices


New Survey Reveals How Much Time Kids Really Spend on Mobile Devices

By Stephen Noonoo     Oct 19, 2017

New Survey Reveals How Much Time Kids Really Spend on Mobile Devices

A whopping 98 percent of U.S. kids live in a house with some form of a mobile device—and those smartphones and tablets are gobbling up a greater portion of kids' screen time than ever.

That’s one of the key findings in a just-released Common Sense Media survey tracking media habits among children aged 0-8, which also found a narrowing but significant digital divide among lower-income households, and the first signs that virtual reality and internet-connected toys are finding their way into American homes.

Overall, the report found that screen time has remained largely static over the past few years, even as mobile technologies continue to supplant traditional media, such as TV. The average American kid still spends upward of two hours a day with screen media—about half of that in front of a TV set. But time with tablets and smartphones is triple what it was in 2013. In addition to that hour of TV, kids are spending about 48 minutes on a mobile device.

While it’s not clear whether kids are using mobile devices on their own or in groups, isolated screen time is a concern, says Devorah Heitner, a digital media consultant and the author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.”

“From research, we know that kids are going to get more out of media when they can co-view with their parents,” Heitner says. “When a screen is tiny, it’s hard to co-view.”

In the survey, which polled more than 1,400 people representing a diverse cross section of American parents, respondents expressed concerns on the amount of violence, sexual content and advertising in media. But more than half of all respondents said they are optimistic about technology’s promise as an educational tool and to spur kids’ creativity.

Heitner also voices concern about kids having unrestricted access to video sites like YouTube, where kids spend an average of 17 minutes a day, according to the survey. To her, streaming services may be a safer bet for parents.

“There’s plenty of things on broadcast TV that are inappropriate for children, but the content that attracts kids on Netflix is mostly things designed for kids that age like animated programs,” she says. "YouTube could be anything. It’s user generated.”

As researchers continue to debate the merit of screen time on mobile devices, they will soon have to add a few more gadgets to their watchlist. While only about 10 percent of parents reported their kids used a virtual reality headset, personal assistant device like Amazon Echo or internet-connected smart-toy, that’s about the same percentage of parents that reported owning a tablet computer in 2011. (Today, 42 percent of children have their own tablet.)

Quality Screen Time

According to the report, kids in lower-income households still lag behind peers from more affluent households in areas such as home computer access (72 percent vs. 97 percent) and connection to high-speed broadband (74 percent vs. 96 percent), but at a smaller rate than found in similar Common Sense surveys conducted in 2011 and 2013. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and inexpensive tablets, the mobile device gap has all but disappeared.

Common Sense Media

“The digital divide is shrinking but the need to support that technology is pervasive,” says Gail Lovely, an early learning expert and co-author of “Using an iPad With Your PreSchooler.” Lovely maintains that virtually all families need better education on how to use technology more productively in the home. “That need is still astronomical and cuts across all demographics.”

According to Lovely, parents may take a backseat when it comes to mobile devices, asking fewer questions and engaging less with their kids. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as parents asking questions,” she says. “Even if kids are playing with something independently, pause and say, ‘What are you doing there? How did you know to do that? What were you thinking about here?’ Those types of conversations can be key.”

Common Sense Media

Educators, too, can play a role in informing parents about their children's’ media use. “It’s great to recommend apps,” says Heitner, “but also let parents know that maybe kids shouldn’t have connected devices in their room overnight, or that even if they’re playing an educational game, it’s OK to set a limit on the time.”

Heitner also suggests schools host events for parents, such as geolocation scavenger hunts or showcasing apps that families can use together, like those from children’s app developer Toca Boca.

“Anything that encourages creation and not just consumption is very positive,” Heitner says. “One of the things that’s most interesting about mobile is that kids can be creative, and that’s something we do want to encourage.”

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