American Kids Spend More Than Two Hours a Day Staring at Screens

Children under the age of nine in the United States spend more than two hours a day with screens, whether it's watching YouTube, Netflix, or playing games. If this number seems high, it actually hasn't changed much since 2011, when Common Sense Media conducted its first survey on media use among kids ages 0 to 8. Now, in its 2017 report, based on a survey of 1,454 parents, Common Sense Media has found that the form in which media is consumed has shifted significantly.

Whereas kids used to watch TV, DVDs, or play on the computer, now they use tablets and smartphones. Mobile media has become an integral part of children's lives, with 98 percent of kids living in a house with some kind of mobile device (up from 75 percent in 2013 and 52 percent in 2011), and 42 percent of kids having their own tablet (up from 7 percent four years ago and less than 1 percent in 2011).

media useCommon Sense Media/Screen capture

There is a big difference in the amount of screen time, depending on household income levels. The report says, "Children from lower-income homes spend an average of 1:39 more with screen media each day than those from higher-income homes."

This could be due to the fact that only one in five parents is aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics' media guidelines, which were revised a year ago to say that children under 18 months should have NO screen time and those aged 18 months to 5 years should be limited to an hour a day. Those parents, according to the Common Sense Media report, tend to be white, educated, and higher-income.

Despite this, it is Hispanic/Latino families that express the most concern about violence, sexual content, gender stereotypes, and advertising/materialism in media.

"For example, 54 percent of Hispanic/Latino parents are 'very' concerned about violence in media, compared to 38 percent of African-American parents and 28 percent of whites."

African-American parents are most likely to view media exposure as beneficial to kids, whereas nearly half of Hispanic/Latino parents 'strongly' agree that the less time kids spend with media, the better off they'll be.

Parents, for the most part, disregard expert advice to limit media use before bedtime, and tend to leave the TV on most of the time, which is discouraged because it inhibits family conversations. The problem is, handing over screens benefits parents more than it does kids; it's the virtual babysitter, a way to give parents a much-needed break at busy times of day, but it's a tough habit to break.

Even though the overall number of hours spent using media hasn't changed much in six years, that still doesn't make it acceptable. Not only does so much screen time expose kids to risky content that they should not be seeing, but it means they're not spending time doing other, more important things -- playing outside, doing chores, reading books, figuring out how to entertain themselves.

In the short promo video that Common Sense Media made about the report, it was interesting to hear parents' hopes for their kids' futures. They said they hope their kids will "use media to learn new things," "learn to use it responsibly," and "learn the value of the outside world." And yet, if those lessons aren't instilled while they're young -- primarily, through the removal of devices from kids' hands -- it's difficult to imagine them figuring them out independently.

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