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Are Kids Watching Less? Common Sense Media Study Spotlights Screen-Time Trends

Published on: December 29, 2013

Daily Change, 2011 to 2013, Source: Common Sense Media
Daily Change, 2011 to 2013, Source: Common Sense Media

 It's a perennial parental worry: Are our kids getting too much screen time? (And how much is too much?)

A new study from Common Sense Media, "Zero to 8: Children's Media Use in America," finds one trend that at first seems unexpected: Overall screen time for kids is down. Average total daily screen time for kids aged 0-8 went from 2 hours 16 minutes in 2011, to just under 2 hours (1:55) in 2013.

However, mobile devices are making up a larger percentage of that time. (The decrease in screen time is due to less time watching and interacting with television, DVDs, video games, and computers.)

Shifting screens

The Common Sense study is a large-scale, nationally representative survey that documents changes in screen time since 2011, when a similar study was conducted. As in 2011, it surveyed parents of children ages 0 to 8 in the U.S., and covered a range of media, from books to music to mobile interactive media like smartphones and tablets.

Not surprisingly, kids are consuming media differently. Kids are spending less time with traditional media (TV, DVDs, computers, and video games), and more time on mobile devices.

From the summary: "Seventy-two percent of children age 8 and under have used a mobile device for some type of media activity such as playing games, watching videos, or using apps, up from 38 percent in 2011. In fact, today, 38 percent of children under 2 have used a mobile device for media (compared to 10 percent two years ago). The percent of children who use mobile devices on a daily basis – at least once a day or more – has more than doubled, from 8 percent to 17 percent."

Despite the decrease in traditional media consumption, though, TV is still the dominant viewing platform, making up about 50 percent of total media time. More than a third of parents say the TV is left on all or most of the time in their home.

Under 2

For kids age 2 and under, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screen time altogether. But this age group is still getting about 1 hour of screen time daily, mainly TV-watching, with virtually no change since 2011, and mobile use is up significantly: 38 percent of kids under 2 had interacted with a mobile device compared to 10 percent in 2011. (On the positive side, the percentage of kids under 2 with a TV in his/her bedroom has gone down, from 30 percent in 2011, to 16 percent in 2013.)

The App Gap

There is still a gap between high- and low-income access to digital media, something the study calls the "app gap." Only about half of low-income families have access to high-speed internet, versus 86 percent of high-income families. However, in the last 2 years, low-income family access to smartphones has increased from 27 percent to 51 percent, and the number of low-income children saying they have used a mobile device went from 22 percent up to 65 percent.

Other income disparities: Families with higher incomes were more likely to have cable, internet-connected TV, and a digital video recorder. Low-income families were more likely to have a TV in the bedroom, or a TV left on all or most of the time.

Access to personal TVs

A little over a third of the kids (36 percent) in the study had a TV in their bedroom, down slightly from 42 percent in 2011. (A portion of this could be explained by the child sharing a room with an older child, or using the family room for a bedroom. But the most common reason given by parents for a TV in their child's room was to free up other TVs for family members to watch their own shows. The second most common reason was to keep the child occupied so that the parents can do other things.)

Effect on family time?

So what does all this TV watching do to family time?  While over half of parents in the study said screen time has no effect on family time, about a quarter said they had less family time, and about a tenth said they spent more time together.

Find it online

Summary of study

Download the full report

More on screen time

Screen Scene: Do Video Games Boost Brainpower in Toddlers and Preschoolers?

Too Much Tech? Tweens and Screen Addiction

Game Changers: Why Video Games are Good For Kids

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