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Common Sense Media: The Digital Census 2017

Children’s Screen Time 2011-2017

In the fall of 2013, the non-profit media research group Common Sense Media released a landmark study on children’s media use in America. It was the first large-scale survey on how our children use digital technology and media. Common Sense promotes safe and responsible use of media for children and families. The stated goal of the study was to give parents, teachers, media creators, children’s health workers, and children’s public policy makers an accurate understanding of the role media plays in the lives of children in America. This study was a follow up on a study released in 2011, which used the same questions and the same methods to gather information.

In 2017, Common Sense released a follow-up to their follow-up, using many of the same questions and methods used in the first two studies. With the explosion of mobile apps, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and increased access and options across the board, we thought we’d check back in with Common Sense and see how the new technological wave has affected children’s media consumption since their last report. The results of these studies show how dramatically things can change over just six years, particularly in the area of mobile technology like tablets and smartphones.

Why Does the Amount of Children’s Screen Time Matter?

Before diving into the results of the Common Sense survey, it’s important to understand why we’re spending time discussing it. Though reasons for examining our children’s media use may seem clear as day to some, others might not be so concerned with the amount of time children spend in front of a TV, computer, or engrnossed in the small glowing rectangle of a new-generation smartphone.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Most parents understand that the digital revolution has had a big effect on the way kids spend their time. Access to TV and computers changes the way kids play and relate to one another. It affects the amount of time they spend outside, the amount of time they spend exercising, and the amount of time they spend learning to navigate basic playground politics. All these things have a direct effect on the overall social, emotional, and physical development and well-being of our children. At the same time, almost all parents are guilty of sitting around with other parents and reminiscing about their youth. It’s hard to have a general parenting conversation without at least one person saying something along the lines of this:

“When I was a kid, my mom used kick us out the front door in the morning, lock the door, and tell us not to come back until dark. Things sure are different now. We didn’t have all these computers and tablets and stuff.”

That’s the reason we need to ask questions about our kid’s screen time: things are very different now than they were 20, 30, and 40 years ago. Things common today would have seemed like Science Fiction to kids who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. And according to Common Sense, things in 2017 are different than they were in 2011 and 2013.

Children’s Media Use in 2017: Mobile Devices

The biggest changes in media for children ages 0-8 between 2013 and 2017 came in their exposure and access to mobile media devices like smartphones and tablets. Here are the numbers, by year:

  • 2011: 52% of families with children ages 0-8 owned mobile media devices, and less than 1% of children 0-8 had a device of their own.
  • 2013: 75% of these families owned media devices, and 7% of their children had their own mobile device.
  • 2017: 98% of families with children 0-8 have a mobile device in the home, and over 42% have a mobile device of their own.

In other words, almost twice as many families now own mobile devices as compared to 2011, and forty times more kids in those families have their own mobile device. Along with this increase in access has come an increase in use:

  • The average amount of time children 0-8 use mobile devices tripled. It rose from 15 minutes a day in 2013 to 48 minutes a day in 2017.
  • The percentage of time children 0-8 use a mobile device rose sharply in comparison to other forms of screen media. It jumped from 4% in 2011 to 35% in 2017.
  • Mobile media stole time from computers, video game players, and DVD/videotapes. Usage of these fell from 46% in 2011 to 23% in 2017.

Children’s Media use in 2017: Computers and Television

While the numbers for mobile media exposure and use rose between 2011 and 2017, the numbers for total screen time remained relatively stable. Here are the numbers for overall screen time:

  • 2011: 2 hours and 16 minutes
  • 2013: 1 hour 55 minutes.
  • 2017: 2 hours and 19 minutes.

In 2011, television was still the dominant mode of screen time for children ages 0-8, but that has changed with the rise in mobile media use. In 2011:

  • Television: Children watched television an average of 1 hour and 9 minutes per day. In 2013, they watched television an average of 57 minutes a day. In 2017, they watched an average of 58 minutes a day.
  • Computers: Children used computers an average of 17 minutes a day. In 2013, they used computers an average of 11 minutes a day. In 2017, they used computers an average of 10 minutes a day.
  • Mobile Devices: Children used mobile devices an average of 5 minutes a day. In 2013, they used mobile devices an average of 15 minutes a day. In 2017, they used mobile devices an average of 48 minutes a day.

Does Your Child Need a Media Vacation?

Common Sense Media collects and publishes important information on the average use of media per child per day. They provide parents with a reference to make specific case-by-case family decisions. Every family situation is unique. And every family has different ways of doing things. Therefore, no one outside the family is as qualified to make decisions about media use as those within the family. At the end of the day, each parent needs to decide what’s right for their own children. The concluding words of the Common Sense report reflect our point of view perfectly:

“We hope the data presented here will help inform the work of the many content creators, educators, health professionals, researchers, policymakers, and advocates who care about the role of media in children’s lives — and that they will encourage parents to gather the information and tools they need to make mindful choices about their children’s engagement with media and technology.”

Does your child need to unplug? Does your child need a digital detox? We offer the facts, in the form of this report. You – the parents – are the only people who really know the answer to those questions.

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