kid watching tv

Every family is different. Each one  follows its own schedule, eats its own cuisine, and occupies free time in their own special way. As fellow parents and mature adults, we try not to judge. To each their own, right?

Right…well, except when it comes to screen time. For some reason, most of our ears perk up when we hear how much time other parents allow their children to watch TV, play video games, surf the Internet, and use mobile devices such as smartphones or iPads. I grew up hearing that too much TV would make a child violent, depressed, overweight, and/or socially-challenged, as well as blind, radioactive, or deformed from cellular mutations. Thankfully, radiation and mutations aren’t a concern nowadays, but there still persists doubt over whether a certain amount of screen time will cause psychological or developmental harm to our children. I think this is why most parents are hesitant to make their family’s screen-time habits public; we assume everyone else’s kids are severely limited in their screen time and our own children are the only ones withering in front of the screen, sure to be visually-challenged, fat, suicidal criminals when they grow up.

I’m here to tell you that your children are not the only ones getting in some screen time. A few weeks ago, Common Sense Media released “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013,” a study based on a large national survey of children under eight years of age, with the goal of shedding light on the important role media play in the lives of children everywhere.  Here are a few of their findings:

  • There has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices, from 8% of all families in 2011 to 40% in 2013.  In 2 years, the percentage of children with access to a smart device at home has jumped from 52% to 75%.
  • The percentage of children who use mobile devices on a daily basis has increased in the past 2 years from 8% to 17%.  The amount of time using mobile devices in a day has tripled, from 5 minutes per day in 2011 to 15 minutes per day in 2013.
  • Time spent with “traditional” screen media (TV, DVDs, video games, computers) is down as compared to 2 years ago: 12 minutes less per day watching TV, 9 minutes less per day watching DVDs, 6 minutes less per day using a computer, and 4 minutes less per day playing video games. With the increase in mobile media usage and the decrease in other screen media use, total screen time among children is down an average of 21 minutes a day to just less than 2 hours per day.
  • Television is the medium children use most frequently. Nearly 58% watch TV at least once a day, as compared to the 17% who use mobile devices daily, the 14% who are daily computer users, and the 6% who play video games every day. Of the nearly 2 hours of screen media use each day, 50% of it is spent watching television.
  • A third (36%) of children have TVs in their bedrooms, including 16% of children under 2, 37% of 2- to 4-year-olds, and 45% of 5- to 8- year-olds.
  • The growth of mobile media devices does not appear to have had a net effect on the frequency or amount of reading among young children. Reading is the least common activity on tablets or small devices among children.

There you have it, folks.  Not only does it appear as though more kids than not have exposure to screen media, but total screen time among children is actually down! Perhaps we are coming out of the age of severe limits and instead embracing moderation. Either way, I think we can tuck our children into bed tonight with 99.9% certainly that their early-childhood screen media exposure will not turn them into visually-challenged, fat, suicidal criminals. Whew!


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