Young Children Are Spending Much More Time In Front Of Small Screens : NPR Ed A new national survey of parents suggests mobile device use by children under 8 has increased tenfold in the past six years.

Young Children Are Spending Much More Time In Front Of Small Screens

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We have some insight this morning into just how much time kids are spending with their eyes locked on the screen of a mobile device. We're not talking about teenagers. The nonprofit Common Sense Media studied children under 8, including infants, and found that these very young kids, even kids in strollers, are spending an average of 48 minutes per day with a mobile device, 48 minutes per day. Anya Kamenetz of NPR's Ed team says that is a bigger and bigger slice for the two hours per day that kids spend in front of all kinds of screens.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: The percentage of that time that's spent with the small devices, the mobile smartphones and tablets, that is what's really going up here. And it's displacing, apparently, other forms of electronic media use.

INSKEEP: So more and more kids have access to smartphones, and so they're spending less time watching "Sesame Street" or Sprout or whatever, and they're looking at a YouTube video or, I don't know, texting their friends at age 1 and a half.

KAMENETZ: We should be careful to say that they - you know, they appear to be doing some of the same things on the small screens. And, as you mentioned, I mean, it may be moving from watching entire episodes on PBS or whatever on television to the YouTube way of watching, where it's streaming and it's clips and it's things on demand. My cousin's son, at the age of 3 was really, really interested in watching YouTube videos of other kids unwrapping toys. (Laughter) So there's new forms of media that kids are engaging with, and they're engaging with it in new ways.

INSKEEP: That must be very suspenseful, actually. Like, what's going to be - what's going to be in that box when it gets opened up?

KAMENETZ: The amount of, you know, compelling material that's out there - if you love trucks, you can just watch garbage trucks. If you love birds, you can just see birds. I mean, kids are really getting to geek out in a way with their interests. And it - I mean, it's fascinating to see, but I think it also has experts a little bit alarmed, as well.

INSKEEP: OK. So why would you be alarmed because kids are moving from this passive experience of watching television to a more active experience where they might be thinking and choosing?

KAMENETZ: Well, you know, some of the questions that experts are asking, the research really hasn't been done. You know, are the small screens more addictive somehow? Is the fact that they're interactive, is that so rewarding to young brains, or does it overstimulate? The fact that we can take these devices everywhere all the time. You know, you see so many parents who are giving their kids mobile devices even when they're out and about. Other types of interactions where they're outside the house - they might be learning, they might be talking with their families - instead, they're on the phones. And that's something that does have some researchers, some pediatricians, worried.

INSKEEP: When you look at different kinds of kids, do the numbers change?

KAMENETZ: That's a really important question. We see consistently that there is a lot more screen time happening amongst families with lower incomes, and that's true in this survey as well. That's an outcome of a lot of different factors. You know, it might be - have to do with education. It might also have to do with access to high-quality paid care, access to toys and other things to occupy your kids, where some families might live in neighborhoods where they don't have backyards or safe places to play and, therefore, they're turning to the television more often.

INSKEEP: OK, one more thing - could it actually be good here for parents if the kid wrestles the phone away from the parent to use it because then finally the parent will get away from the phone that they're addicted to?

KAMENETZ: (Laughter) You know, the more I look at screen time, Steve, the more I realize that it's not just about kids and screens. It definitely is about parents and kids and screens. And so we are their role models, and they are watching us. And when we have our devices in our hands all the time, even a tiny infant sees that and wants to copy that. And so as much as we're, you know, keeping an eye on kids' use, I think - you know, definitely it starts with you.

INSKEEP: Hey, Anya. Thanks very much. I know you got to get back and check Twitter but appreciate the conversation.

KAMENETZ: I sure do. OK.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anya Kamenetz of the Ed team.


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