Some 39% of 2-4-year-olds use a smart phone or tablet, and more than half (52%) of kids ages 5-8 do so.
That is according to a just-released national study from Common Sense Media.
"For parents, pediatricians, and child development experts concerned about screen media use among children under two, this report indicates that a substantial number of infants and toddlers are watching TV and DVDs on a regular basis," the study concluded.
It is the first of a series of reports from Common Sense as part of its new Program for the Study of Children and the Media, which is headed by Vicky Rideout, former vice president of f the Kaiser Family Foundation. "These results make it clear that media plays a large and growing role in children's lives, even the youngest of children," said Rideout, president of VJR Consulting. And almost a quarter of kids 5-8 are multitasking at least some of the time.
The goal of the program is to provide free, objective, and reliable data about young people's media use to those concerned about promoting healthy child development, including policymakers, educators, public health experts, child advocates, and parents.
"Much of the focus in recent years has been on the explosion of media use among teenagers," said Common Sense Media founder Jim Steyer (FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is a founding board member of the group). "This study examines media use among the youngest generation. Today's infants and toddlers are growing up surrounded by screens, TV screens, computer screens, smartphones, iPads, and console game screens." The idea behind the series of reports is to find out what the impact of that increasing screen time means for the health and wellbeing of those kids, said Steyer.
Common Sense has long advocated for giving parents better tools to manage their kids media exposure, but like Genachowski have also said there is a continuing role for government.
The study found that kids 8 and under spend 3 hours and 14 minutes a day with media, including screen media, reading and music, but the majority of it (2:16) screen media and the majority of that is TV viewing, including DVDs (1:40). TV viewing starts young, according to the survey, with the average age of first viewing 9 months old. The study found that 42% of kids eight and under have TV's in their room, and almost a third (30%) of kids two and younger. But there is also a teething ring-tone set, with 10% of children under a year old having used a smart phone, video iPod, or iPad/tablet.
The study found a digital divide based on income, including an "app gap." Only 14% of lower-income parents had downloaded an app for their kids, compared to 47% of upper income parents.
"For children's advocates who are concerned about the negative effects of young children having a TV in their bedroom (including on obesity, school grades, and time spent watching TV), these data are a wake-up call," the study concluded.
"Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America" was based on a survey of 1,384 parents of kids 8 and under, including an oversampling of African American and Hipsanic parents. The study was conducted by Knowledge Networks May 27 through June 15, 2011. Lower-income families are those that make less than $30,000 per year, while higher-income families are $75,000 or above.