Mobile media have become nearly a universal part of children’s media landscape across all levels of society, according to a new study by Common Sense, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing parents, educators and policymakers with reliable data on children’s use of media and technology.
Virtually all children age 8 and under — 98 percent — live in a home with some type of mobile device, says the study, “The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight.” That’s about the same percentage as children who have a TV in the home. Among types of devices, 95 percent of families have smartphones at home. Among other devices, 78 percent of households have at least one tablet device. Indeed, 42 percent of children have their own tablets, according to the study.
“For me, the key [finding] is the very rapid rise of mobile vis-à-vis other media, regardless of family income,” said Michael Levine, founding executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a research and alliance-building organization that aims to advance high-quality media experiences for children. “Mobile is certainly here to stay.”
He added that “while the Zero to Eight report suggests that young children are increasingly facile in operating mobile technologies, we don’t know yet how to best drive the educational and home-based practices to extend learning and development outside the screen.” New programs that offer professional development on the effective use of digital media for early educators are now very much needed, he said.
While mobile media are ubiquitous across income levels, Common Sense researchers found that the digital divide — the gap in home computer and internet access — still exists, though it is decreasing. Among higher-incomes families (earning more than $75,000 annually) with kids 8 and under, 97 percent own a home computer, compared to 72 percent for lower-income families (income less than $30,000 a year). Six years ago, however, only 48 percent of lower-incomes families had a home computer. Figures for high-speed internet access showed a similar gap — 96 percent in the high-income bracket have internet access, compared to 74 percent for lower-income families. In 2011, only 42 percent of lower-income households had internet availability.
Researchers also discovered significant differences in “screen time” — the viewing of any device with a screen, including television — by household income. Children age 8 and under from lower-income households spend an hour-and-a-half more with screen media each day than kids from higher-income homes. Overall, 67 percent of parents with children under age 8 at home say the use of screen media helps their learning, the study revealed.
Kids age 8 and under are spending more time on mobile devices and watching less television, according to the report. While TV is still king of screen media, commanding an average 58 minutes a day of every kids’ attention, mobile media is quickly gaining ground, increasing from only five minutes a day in Common Sense’s 2011 survey to 48 minutes a day in 2017. However, the study found that time spent watching TV declined 11 minutes over the same period.
One surprise result in this year’s study was that children prefer paper books over digital books, researchers said. Of the 29 minutes children spend reading each day, they devote only three minutes to reading on electronic devices, Common Sense found. The rest of their reading time is spent with “old-fashioned printed books, debunking the notion that children want to do everything on a screen,” researchers noted.