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.