Did you read to your kids today? Did you park them in front of the television? Did you hand over your iPhone to keep them from whining at the grocery store? If so, you're not alone. A new study by Common Sense Media found that kids ages 0-8 spend an average of two hours a day with screen media like smartphones, video games, computers, television, and DVDs. And reading? They do that, too -- but not nearly as much as the other stuff.
Understanding how young kids use media and what it means for their health and well-being is the subject of Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America, the inaugural study by Common Sense Media's new Program for the Study of Children and Media. Directed by former Kaiser Family Foundation Vice President Vicky Rideout, Zero to Eight builds upon the Kaiser Family Foundation's landmark study, The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers and Their Parents. That 2006 study found that kids ages 6 months to 6 years averaged 1.5 hours a day interacting with screen media. Zero to Eight is the first national, publicly available research study to document young children's use of both newer mobile devices -- such as smartphones and tablet computers -- as well as traditional media like television.
Among the key findings:
Little kids love digital. Among 0- to 8-year-olds, a quarter (27 percent) of all screen time is spent on digital devices like computers, video games, smartphones, and tablets.
Books take a back seat to television. Zero- to 8-year-olds spend an average of 1 hour and 40 minutes per day watching television and DVDs, compared to 29 minutes reading or being read to. Babies and toddlers under age 2 spend more than twice as much time watching television and DVDs (53 minutes) as they do reading or being read to (23 minutes).
The digital divide is growing. Nearly three out of four (72 percent) of 0- to 8-year-olds have a computer at home, but access ranges from 48 percent among those from low-income families to 91 percent among higher-income families.
There's a new "app gap." Among lower-income children, 27 percent have a parent with a smartphone, compared to 57 percent for higher-income children.
Clearly, media has become a staple in young kids' daily lives and influences them in ways we don't yet fully understand. Balancing their exposure with all of the other stuff that kids need is part of parenting in the digital age. Zero to Eight can ultimately help parents establish guidelines for media use at home and try to level the playing field for all kids.
One thing you can act on now is your unique role in creating healthy lifelong patterns in your kids' critical early years. Here's how:
Provide balance. Balance the types of media your kids are exposed to -- television, computers, music, books, etc. And balance the time kids spend using them with other activities that foster their emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development.
Make wise choices. Choose age-appropriate, quality content that reinforces your family's values. Remember that not every show or game has to be labeled "educational" to foster learning; if something is engaging your kid's mind, go with it. Check Common Sense Media for reviews and recommendations on movies, TV shows, books, games, websites, music, and apps.
Watch, play, read, and listen with your kids. Don't underestimate the value of co-viewing. Especially in the early years, it's crucial to sit with your kid and play, watch, sing along, and interact with them. All media consumption for kids under 8 should happen in your presence -- or be heavily monitored.
Be sensitive to differences. One of the key findings of the Zero to Eight report is that media exposure and choices differ by socio-economic status. Don't assume that everyone has the same technology or follows the same rules -- or even has rules for media consumption at all. Uneven access can lead to uneven knowledge, so help your kids understand that all families are different.