It might seem like kids are becoming more tightly glued to their screens with every passing day, but according to an American survey by the non-profit Common Sense Media, kids zero to eight are spending about the same amount of time on screens as they were six years ago. The way they’re using screens, however, has shifted dramatically. Curious how your children stack up against every other YouTube-obsessed kid?
On average, in 2017, kids up to eight spend two hours and 19 minutes on screens a day, and 48 minutes of that is on mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones. That’s three times what kids spent on mobile devices in 2013, and way more than the five minutes a day kids spent on mobile devices in 2011.
Almost all (98 percent of) kids live in a house with at least one mobile device, according to the survey, while 45 percent of kids under eight have one of their own. And, in case your kid has been begging for one, you may be interested to know that, among kids ages five to eight, 59 percent have their own tablet, nine percent have their own iPod Touch or similar device, and seven percent have their own smartphone.
All those mobile devices mean more independent viewing for kids, says Michael Robb, director of research at Common Sense Media, who oversaw the report. “In days gone by, you had a TV in your living room, and parents could walk by and see what was on TV, or everybody could watch the same thing because there weren’t other options.”
Robb is quick to point out the advantages of mobile media—namely, that kids have access to high-quality programming that is perhaps even more age-appropriate than what would have been on TV in the past. “But it can be harder for parents to know what kids are doing on a mobile device—which can be a problem both in terms of what they are accessing, and in terms of engaging with kids about what they’re doing on the screen.”
Kids are also warming up to screens at a very young age. Children under two—who, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Paediatric Society, should have minimal to no exposure to screens—watch devices for 42 minutes a day. By ages two to four, that time jumps to two hours and 39 minutes—well above the AAP and CPS recommended limits of one hour for that age group. Kids ages five to eight spend nearly 3 hours on screens each day, although Robb points out that some of that time might have been concurrent (ie. watching TV and playing on an iPad at the same time). Still, he says, the number is high. “How much time out of a day is a kid not in school and not sleeping? Three hours out of that time can seem like a lot of media use.”
Robb suggests parents help kids find balance by asking themselves: What are the things that are important for my kids? “For a young kid, it’s going to be interacting with other people, having outdoor time, having time to engage with physical toys and objects, and reading. And if you can check off those boxes, then don’t fret over the exact number of minutes of screen time a kid gets.”
There is one glimmer of hope for our screen-enraptured kids: They haven’t lost an interest in books. The amount of time they spend reading or being read to is still about half an hour a day—the same as it was since 2011 when Common Sense Media first did this survey—and they much prefer to read physical books than electronic ones. So if you’re worried about all the screens, try hiding the iPad under a stack of classic kids’ books—you might just find your kid with their nose glued to something new.