Worrying Screen Time Trends for Kids

Chil­dren are being intro­duced to tech­nol­o­gy at ear­li­er ages than ever before. With the avail­abil­i­ty of elec­tron­ic and mobile devices, it’s no won­der that screen time is becom­ing a nor­mal part of every­day life for chil­dren. In fact, a recent sur­vey con­duct­ed by Com­mon Sense Media revealed that 69% of kids have their own smart­phone by the time they turn 12. And while many par­ents reg­u­late screen time when their chil­dren are young, research indi­cates that the rules for using tech­nol­o­gy shift dras­ti­cal­ly as kids get older. 

While tech­nol­o­gy offers many edu­ca­tion­al (and even emo­tion­al) ben­e­fits to kids when it is used respon­si­bly, the Com­mon Sense Media sur­vey shows a dis­tinct shift in tech­nol­o­gy and view­ing habits that we must con­sid­er and address to pro­tect the best inter­ests of our children.

How much screen time should kids have?

It’s no secret that reg­u­la­tion of apps and tech­nol­o­gy geared towards chil­dren is very lax. The con­tent chil­dren con­sume and the amount of time they spend look­ing at screens can have a direct impact on their health. The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion rec­om­mends an hour or less of screen time per day for chil­dren under the age of five. Instead, they should be engag­ing in phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, tak­ing reg­u­lar naps, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in face-to-face games and sto­ry­telling with peers and caregivers. 

Over the past four years, total screen time for kids has only increased by about eight min­utes on aver­age. Good news, until you con­sid­er that chil­dren between the ages of eight and twelve spend near­ly five hours on elec­tron­ic devices per day, with teens aver­ag­ing just over sev­en hours per day. And while the time spent on screens for enter­tain­ment pur­pos­es may not be increas­ing year-over-year, the type of media that chil­dren are con­sum­ing is shift­ing drastically.

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Video consumption is on the rise

Adult con­sumers con­tin­ue to turn pri­mar­i­ly to video con­tent for enter­tain­ment and infor­ma­tion, and kids are fol­low­ing suit. In 2015, accord­ing to Com­mon Sense Media, kids spent about half an hour per day on video plat­forms like YouTube and Net­flix. That num­ber has dou­bled over the past four years to an hour a day — and all signs indi­cate that it will con­tin­ue to rise. 

The per­cent­age of chil­dren who report that they watch videos has more than dou­bled since 2015, spik­ing from 24% to 56% in 2019 for eight to twelve-year-olds and from 34% to 69% for teens. 

An hour a day might not sound trou­bling until you con­sid­er where chil­dren are get­ting their con­tent and what they might be exposed to as a result. 33% of the video con­tent chil­dren con­sume online is watched on YouTube, despite the fact that the site’s terms of ser­vice indi­cate that it is not meant for any­one under the age of 13. In real­i­ty, 76% of those who respond­ed to the Com­mon Sense Media sur­vey report­ed that their chil­dren use YouTube on a dai­ly basis. 

As James P. Stey­er, Founder and CEO of Com­mon Sense Media, explains,

The study shows wor­ri­some indi­ca­tors, as our most vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion — our kids — are spend­ing a lot of time on unreg­u­lat­ed, unrat­ed plat­forms that deliv­er con­tent that can be inap­pro­pri­ate or even dangerous.”

While YouTube does offer par­ents some lim­it­ed con­trols to fil­ter out inap­pro­pri­ate con­tent via its Safe­ty Mode,” it’s easy for kids to dis­able, and it doesn’t catch every­thing even when it’s active.

Setting limits to protect our children

Life moves fast. We all have com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties that demand our atten­tion. For many par­ents, screen time mon­i­tor­ing gets lost in the chaos of every­day life. It’s vital to the men­tal and phys­i­cal health of our chil­dren, how­ev­er, and well worth the focus it requires. 

Only 28% of par­ents say that they mon­i­tor the amount of time their chil­dren spend on devices. That means that 72% of chil­dren are watch­ing what they want, when they want.

While qual­i­ty con­tent, viewed under pre­de­fined time con­straints, can have a pos­i­tive impact on chil­dren, the infor­ma­tion revealed in the Com­mon Sense Media report is con­cern­ing. There is very lit­tle over­sight or reg­u­la­tion of the video con­tent our chil­dren are watch­ing (and how much of it they watch). As a result, chil­dren are vul­ner­a­ble to vio­lent, inap­pro­pri­ate, or explic­it content. 

Get Involved

There are steps par­ents can take to encour­age the use of healthy screen time. 

  • First, lim­it the amount of time chil­dren are allowed to spend online
  • Take away or lim­it smart­phones and oth­er devices at bed­time, in school, or any­where else where they might be a dis­trac­tion from impor­tant activities
  • Allow only kid-friend­ly apps like Jel­lies, that fol­low age-appro­pri­ate guide­lines for content
  • Treat screen time as a priv­i­lege — not a right. Take it away if a child breaks the rules

It takes time and patience to instill good screen time habits, but it’s nev­er too late to start. The world will only con­tin­ue to become more dig­i­tal­ly-depen­dent and focused on tech­nol­o­gy. It’s up to us to ensure that our kids use tech­nol­o­gy to their ben­e­fit — not their detriment.