Oct 29, 2013

    More kids at play with mobile devices

    AS ADULTS turn increasingly to mobile devices like tablets, Kindles and iPhones, their children - even the smallest ones - are doing so as well.

    This is according to a new study called Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America, 2013 by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that examines children's use of technology.

    The study is based on a nationally representative Internet survey of 1,463 parents with children under eight.

    Over the last two years, the shift has been drastic. The survey found that among children under two, 38 per cent had used mobile devices like iPhones, tablets and Kindles - the same percentage as children eight and under who had used such technology, according to a similar survey two years ago.

    Tablets, in particular, have become far more common. Forty per cent of families now own tablets, up from only 8 per cent two years ago. And this year's survey found that 7 per cent of the children had tablets of their own.

    "I was blown away by the rapidity of the change," said Ms Vicky Rideout, the author of both this year's report and the 2011 version.

    Though many parents express pride that their children are so tech-savvy, she said what has really happened is that technology has become much easier to use.

    Certainly, mobile devices are more convenient than traditional technology, whether for a parent's own use or for distracting a child in a restaurant.

    Dr Laurel Glaser, a Philadelphia physician with two daughters aged five and one, said: "I know if I need Zoe to be quiet for an hour, I can hand her the iPad and I won't hear from her."

    Dr Glaser was one of the few parents interviewed who said she tried to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children under two should have no screen time.

    "I'm not super strict and, sometimes, we have the television set on and both girls watch it," she said.

    Mostly, the group's recommendation is ignored.

    The survey found that children under two, on average, spend an hour a day in front of screens - engaging in activities like watching TV, using computers, viewing DVDs and playing with mobile apps.

    Children ages two to four averaged two hours a day, and those aged five to eight averaged two hours and 20 minutes.

    There is a vast number of apps for babies and children, available for free or at a low cost: Educational apps to teach the alphabet, numbers, shapes and sign language; apps featuring TV characters; game apps and art and music apps.

    Many families have smartphones with collections of family photos and videos of their children's recent outings, haircuts or play dates.

    Ms Rideout said: "It used to be that a screen was (just) a screen, and children just sat and watched it. But, now, it can be lots of different things."

    However, the time younger children spent on mobile devices was still relatively short, the study found. On average, children under eight spent 15 minutes a day on mobile devices, up from five minutes a day in 2011.

    But as mobile devices have become more popular, the amount of time children spend with the screens of more traditional technology - like TV sets and computers - has declined by half an hour a day over the last two years.

    TV sets still dominate, though, taking up about half of all children's screen-media time.