In an announcement unsurprising to anyone who has, or has seen, children, USA Today reports today on a Common Sense study that shows an alarming increase in device usage among kids. While the amount of time kids spend looking at a screen is about the same—a little over two hours a day—as it was in 2011, now almost half of that time—48 minutes—is focused on a mobile device instead of a TV. According to the study, this is “up from 5 minutes in 2011 and 15 minutes in 2013.”
Additionally, 98 percent of children live in a house with a mobile device, and 42 percent have their own tablets. Common Sense CEO Jim Steyer is calling this young generation “true digital natives.” While he says that there are some benefits attached to this usage (developing expertise in building imaginary spaces in Minecraft, for example), he and other experts agree that its prevalence is “cause for concern, especially for the youngest children.” Kids having their own tablets makes it harder for parents to monitor what exactly they’re watching (likely YouTube videos with titles like “most painful pranks”). Plus there’s the downside of all the time the kids are spending lying down looking at a screen when they could be, you know, using their arms and legs.
USA Today quotes an L.A. pediatrician who says of screen usage, “‘Addictive’ isn’t the right word,” when in fact it appears to be exactly the right word. Granted, screen time does give parents an effective discipline weapon when it comes to doling out punishment (“No screens for a week!”). But it appears that a smarter tack would be to limit screen time overall, as this study suggests, just like every screen-related study before it. Steyer suggests creating device-free “sacred spaces”: “the dinner table, bedrooms, maybe the car” (we swear we try this in the minivan, but then the backseat fighting begins almost immediately). It’s also a good reminder to get your own head out of your phone, because these kids are likely learning from example.