Cause For Concern: Dramatic Spike In Kids' Mobile Use

What is our current obsession with mobile gadgets doing to young children?

No one knows -- but that doesn’t seem to be discouraging parents from exposing their kids to higher and higher doses of mobile media.

On a daily basis, children under the age of eight now spend an average of 48 minutes with mobile devices, according to a new nationally representative survey of 1,454 parents.

Relative to adult mobile habits, that might not sound like a ton of time -- but it’s up dramatically from 5 minutes a day in 2011, and 15 minutes in 2013.

Even more remarkably, 42% of children have their own tablet device -- up from 7% four years ago, and less than 1% in 2011 according to the study, which was co-designed by children’s health advocacy group Common Sense Media and VJR Consulting, and then fielded by GfK.

James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, says there’s cause for worry. “The massive spike in kids’ mobile use was one of the more concerning findings,” he said. “There’s so much we don't know about how devices affect our kids’ development.”

In particular, Steyer says he’s worried about the increasingly common practice of dual TV and mobile usage in households, and young children using mobile gadgets within an hour of their bedtime.

While too much mobile exposure is a concern for some parents, many seem to be more troubled by the type of content their children can access.

Nationwide, 78% of parents said they are very or somewhat concerned about their kids encountering violent content; 77% said the same about sexual content; while 69% said they were very or somewhat concerned about children being exposed to materialism and advertising.

Regarding that latter fear, Steyer says parents should consider the fact that mobile media is far less regulated than the content kids encounter while watching TV.

“There are strict regulations designed to prevent companies from marketing directly to kids on TV, but the lines are much fuzzier with digital content,” Steyer said on Wednesday.

Moving forward, parents need to be better educated about the dangers of mobile exposure.

At the moment, just one in five are aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for children’s media use.

Informed or not, however, parents aren’t likely to rein in their kids’ mobile use, says Steyer.

“We don't expect this to slow down,” he said.

As such, Steyer added: “We need laws protecting [childrens’] privacy, companies being clear and transparent about their data collection, and parents and educators teaching kids how to be good digital citizens.”

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