More than 96% of young children in a low-income, minority community had used mobile devices, and nearly half of those under a year old used a smartphone or tablet daily to play games, watch a video or use apps, according to a survey of 350 parents of children ages 6 months to 4 years.
The findings indicate that digital media have crossed the economic divide, said Matilde M. Irigoyen, M.D., FAAP, co-author of the report.
Parents were surveyed when they brought their children to a pediatric clinic between October and November 2014. The 20-item survey was adapted from Common Sense Media’s 2013 nationwide survey and asked about media platforms in the household, how old children were when they first used mobile media devices, how often they use devices and under what circumstances.
Results, detailed in the report “Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children” (Kabali HK, et al. Pediatrics. Nov. 2, 2015, www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2015-2151), show early adoption and independent use of smartphones and tablets. Most children started using devices before age 1, and three-fourths had their own mobile device by age 4.
Parents frequently used mobile devices as “digital pacifiers” to keep children calm in public places or while doing chores or running errands. At age 2, most children used a device daily.
“As pediatricians, we see it all the time that when parents bring kids to the practice, they’re constantly soothing them or giving them the tablets to distract them,” Dr. Irigoyen said.
Daily screen time for television had decreased and mobile screen time had quadrupled from 2013 to 2014. Results suggest that mobile devices are displacing television as major sources of media consumption for young children, the authors stated.
One out of three children used several media devices at the same time. This finding raises concerns because media multitasking has been associated with task inefficiency and safety hazards.
Dr. Irigoyen said future research should focus on how children use mobile devices and interact with parents through digital media.
“That’s key in determining ways not only to help kids become digital users,” she said, “but also to make the best of it for their learning and development.”
Robert Bonner, M.D., co-author of the report, said future research can guide parents and pediatricians in managing children’s mobile device use.
The Academy advises parents to limit children’s screen time to two hours per day and discourages screen media exposure for children younger than 2 years. A recent symposium convened by the Academy crafted media use guidelines advising parents to co-view media with young children, limit their own media use, create tech-free zones, prioritize unplugged playtime and use media mistakes as teachable moments.
The Academy also directs parents to organizations like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) that review age-appropriate apps, games and programs.
“As pediatricians, we are looking at ways to help children improve in their development and in their literacy and in their ability to communicate,” said Dr. Bonner. “I think there are some opportunities that may come about with children using these devices.”
The increase in mobile device ownership may provide opportunities to enhance school readiness and address educational inequality for young children in low-income communities, the authors concluded. However, low-income and minority parents have expressed a need for expert guidance on quality media content.
“It’s new territory for us to think about and explore further with our families,” Dr. Bonner said.