Report: Nearly All Children Using Mobile Device of Some Kind

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A new study has shown the surprising extent to which toddlers and very young children are using mobile devices.

The report, entitled “Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children,” has shown that young children in low-income families are almost universally exposed to mobile devices, calling into question the difference in technology access between low-income and middle-class households.

Almost 97% of the children were reported by their parents as using mobile devices – and most of them started using them before their first birthday.

97% of parents report that they own a TV, and 77% of parents owned a smartphone, writes Greg Toppo of USA Today. At age four, about three-quarters of children owned a device, and half used more than one device at the same time. 20% of 1-year-olds had a tablet computer, and 21% of 4-year-olds have a gaming console. 28% of 2-year-olds can use a mobile device on their own. 27% of parents are using these devices at bedtime to put their children to sleep.

The study, which asked 20 questions of 289 parents of 350 children, was published in the journal Pediatrics, according to Madeline Sturgeon of AAP News. Everyone surveyed was in an urban, low-income, minority area.

One of the lead researchers on the study was Matilde Irigoyen, chair of the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. She recalled one woman from the survey who reported that she would let the battery on her phone run down to 20%, and then give it to her child. When the phone ran out of battery life, it was time to sleep.

Mary Brophy Marcus of CBS News quoted Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, the executive director of Digital Health at Seattle Children’s Hospital:

The study showed kids are getting handed a device at bedtime and that’s where I think screens can be really detrimental to health. Bedtime rituals are precious – reading, singing, being with family. And bedtime rituals are really important to good sleep hygiene.

Irigoyen also mentioned that she was surprised that kids owned their own devices in such high numbers.

Michael Levine, founding director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, says that this might be evidence that the economic “digital divide” may be becoming less relevant as more people have access to mobile technology. Levine, who also co-authored “Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens,” believes that parents aren’t getting enough support to make sure that what their kids are accessing is both age-appropriate and educational. He said:

Parents don’t need a guilt trip– parents need guidance and support and better-quality stuff that is more intentionally educational, more culturally resonant and relevant, and which they can discover easily with their children.

A different study conducted by Common Sense Media showed slightly different results. They found that 75% of children had access to some type of mobile device in 2013, according to Catherine Saint Louis of the New York Times. In 2011, only 38% had access to a mobile device.