Half of all babies use a computer or smartphone before age 2. Here’s why that’s bad.

October 28, 2013

In the never-ending battle over whether screentime is good or bad for kids, two new reports — released, ironically, on the same day — paint both a concerning and ambiguous picture of how children consume media in 2013.

Nearly half of babies have used a computer or mobile device before their 2nd birthday, found a report by the think tank Common Sense Media.

But doctors should strongly discourage parents from letting kids under 2 use these devices, ruled the brand-new media guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

(Common Sense Media)
(Common Sense Media)

Clearly, there’s a big gap between what children and parents are doing and what doctors advise. The CSM study found that children spend less time in front of screens than they did two years ago. But that drop is due mostly to a loss of interest in traditional media; time on phones and tablets is up big since 2011.

Two years ago, for instance, only 14 percent of kids under 2 had used a computer or mobile device — now 48 percent have. And while the AAP recommends that children spend no more than one to two hours in front of a TV or computer, this survey shows most kids fall at the very upper limit of that spectrum, devoting an hour and 55 minutes each day to their screens.

Among the other findings from the CSM report:

  • The average child (used throughout the report to mean a kid 8 or younger) spends an hour and 19 minutes watching TV or DVDs, 11 minutes using a computer, 10 minutes playing video games, and 15 minutes using a mobile device each day.
  • By age 2, two-thirds of kids have watched a TV and 38 percent have used a smartphone or tablet.
  • 75 percent of children have access to a smartphone or tablet at home, up from 52 percent in 2011.
  • Nearly one in five kids uses a mobile device every day.
  • Nearly three in five parents has downloaded a mobile app for their kids.
  • The average child spends 11 minutes a day on the computer, a number that goes up with age.
  • 3 percent of kids use Facebook or another social network.

The question that CSM hesitates to answer is whether all this screentime is good or bad for kids. The short answer? We don't know for sure — which is why, AAP argues, we shouldn’t let kids loose around computers and cellphones.


(Common Sense Media)

There’s research that links unlimited media use to obesity, aggression, developmental delays and sleep and attention problems in young children. At the same time, shows like “Sesame Street” have enormous health benefits for little kids, the AAP says — which suggests certain kinds of educational programs or games could have health benefits, too. CSM finds that very young children are usually using apps and surfing the web for educational purposes. And the average child still spends more time reading than playing with apps or video games.

Of course, it will still be several years before researchers can conclusively measure the long-term effects of computer and smartphone use among small kids. Until then, we'll give the AAP the final word. Its recommendations to parents:

  • Limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours a day.

  • Discourage screen media exposure for children under two years of age.

  • Keep the TV set and Internet-connected electronic devices out of the child’s bedroom.

Related news:

For young children, mobile devices such as tablets, smartphones now a mainstay

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Andrea Peterson · October 28, 2013