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Study: More than half of young children use digital media

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Nearly three out of four zero- to 8-year-olds have a computer at home.

Fifty-two percent of children ages 5-8 use smart phones, video iPods, iPads, or similar devices, and four in 10 2- to 4-year-olds use the same devices, according to a new national study on young children’s use of media.

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America [2]” documents young children’s use of new digital media devices such as iPads or other tablet devices and mobile apps, along with older media platforms such as television, computers, and books.

The study, which was presented and discussed at a panel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25, is the first in a series of reports from Common Sense Media’s new Program for the Study of Children and Media, and it has important implications for educators charged with teaching today’s youth.

Despite the proliferation of new technologies and platforms, television continues to dominate children’s media use. Among all children up to age 8, an average of one hour and 40 minutes is spent watching television or DVDs in a typical day, compared to 29 minutes reading or being read to, 29 minutes listening to music, 17 minutes using a computer, 14 minutes using a console or handheld video game player, and 5 minutes using a cell phone, video iPod, iPad, or similar device.

Even among infants and toddlers, screen media use dwarfs time spent reading. In a typical day, zero- to 1-year-olds spend more than twice as much time watching television and DVDs (53 minutes) as they do reading or being read to (23 minutes). And some young children have already begun media multitasking—23 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds use more than one medium “most” or “some” of the time.

Among the survey’s key findings:

In addition to the traditional digital divide, a new “app gap” has developed, the survey suggests. Among lower-income children, 27 percent have a parent with a smart phone, compared to 57 percent for higher-income children. One in 10 lower-income children has a video iPod or similar device in the home, compared to one in three (34 percent) upper-income children. And just 2 percent of lower-income children have a tablet device such as an iPad at home, compared to 17 percent of higher-income children.

Only 14 percent of lower-income parents having downloaded new media apps for their kids to use, compared to 47 percent of upper-income parents.

Thirty-eight percent of lower-income parents say they don’t even know what an app is, compared to just 3 percent of higher-income parents.

Nearly three out of four (72 percent) zero- to 8-year-olds have a computer at home, but access ranges from 48 percent among those from low-income families (less than $30,000 a year) to 91 percent among higher-income families (more than $75,000 a year).

“Much of the focus in recent years has been on the explosion of media use among teenagers, whereas our study examines media use among young children during crucial developmental years,” said James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated its recommendations on media use for children younger than 2, noting that while the AAP discourages media use for this age group, parents should set media limits for their children.

Instead of screens, parents should opt for supervised independent play with parents and young children if parents are unable to sit down and actively engage in play with the child, according to the recommendations. Parents also should avoid placing a television in a child’s bedroom.

“Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed their position that children under age 2 should not engage in any screen time, yet the data shows infants and toddlers are growing up surrounded by screens. This use data is an important first step toward understanding how the prevalence of media and technology effects the development of our youngest kids,” Steyer said.

The study’s release also serves as the launch of Common Sense Media’s Program for the Study of Children and Media, a multi-year research effort directed by Vicky Rideout, a senior adviser to Common Sense Media and director of more than 30 previous studies on children, media and health. The program aims to provide free, objective, and reliable data about young people’s media use to those concerned about promoting healthy child development, including policymakers, educators, public health experts, child advocates, and parents.

“These results make it clear that media plays a large and growing role in children’s lives, even the youngest of children,” said Rideout. “As we grapple with issues such as the achievement gap and childhood obesity, educators, policymakers, parents, and public health leaders need access to comprehensive and credible research data to inform their efforts.”

For analysis and full results of “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America,” as well as more information about Common Sense Media’s Program for the Study of Children and Media, visit www.commonsense.org/research [2].