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Kids Are Watching Less TV Than Ever (But They're Still on Screens 2 Hours a Day!)

New research from our friends at Common Sense Media uncovers some thumbs-up trends.

Kids Are Watching Less TV Than Ever (But They're Still on Screens 2 Hours a Day!)

We’re always talking about how kids these days are addicted to screens. Even though teens and tweens are glued more strongly to their devices, the latest report from Common Sense Media shows that kids ages 8 and under aren’t spending any more time with media than they did six years ago. The 2017 survey included a representative sample of 1,400 parents from diverse backgrounds from all regions of the country.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed. Overall, kids are spending a total of 2 hours and 19 minutes per day on screen media (:42 for kids 0 to 2; 2:39 for kids 2 to 4; 2:56 for kids 5 to 8). But the amount of time kids spend with mobile devices has tripled—from 15 minutes a day in 2011 to 48 minutes in 2017—while their time spent watching TV and DVDs, playing video games, and using a computer has declined. Regardless of socioeconomic status, nearly every child now has access to a mobile device: 98 percent of families have a smartphone (as compared with only 41 percent in 2011) and 42 percent of kids have their own tablet.

Evolution of Media Use 2011 to 2017 Infographic

The nonprofit organization, whose mission is to help kids and families “thrive in a world of media and technology,” knows that we’re not putting the genie back in the bottle. “We’re focused on helping parents make good choices, and helping kids become smart media consumers,” says Michael Robb, director of research at Common Sense Media.  

Here are other pieces of good news:

  1. Kids still love books. Despite the allure of screens and devices, kids are still reading or being read to for a half-hour per day. Print books, rather than e-books, rule.
  2. Fewer kids have a TV in their bedroom. In 2011, 42 percent of kids had one, and now only 29 percent do. Pediatricians have been urging parents to make this move to improve kids’ sleep. However, nearly half of kids still often or sometimes watch TV or videos or play video games in the hour before bedtime—which doctors discourage.
  3. Babies and toddlers are watching somewhat less. Even though most young children are using screen media, they’re watching for an average of 42 minutes a day, as compared with 53 minutes in 2013. “For children under age 2, treat screen time like you do a book. Put your child in your lap, and watch together. It can be a great opportunity to help build vocabulary,” advises Robb.

“The new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines have more nuance than the old ‘No screens before age 2’ rule,” adds Anya Kamenetz, author of the forthcoming book, The Art of Screen Time. “Researchers say that video chatting with grandparents and dancing along to a favorite music video can be beneficial. On the other hand, pacifying toddlers with short videos—while tempting—should be used like M&Ms: Only when you really need to!”

The new study only looked at the quantity of kids’ screen time, not quality. Looking for some ideas of what to watch together? Check out our list of the 50 Best Movies For Kids.