How Technology Impacts our Children

A new study suggests that children are spending more and more time in front of screens — and it’s not just because of smartphones.

Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images
Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images

As researchers, we look at the numbers and analyze data to better understand health trends that will affect society.

My most recent work with Dr. Jessica L. Adler, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that children are spending more time watching television. Comparing pre-mobile device usage in 1997 to when mobile devices were widely available in 2014, the study found that television consumption still significantly outpaced mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets.

There is growing concern over the amount of time that children, particularly very young children, spend in front of screens. Our findings were surprising as it feels like mobile devices are omnipresent but televisions were still the most common way for young children to consume media, at least in 2014.

The study found that the average amount of screen time in 1997 for children up to the age of 2 was 1.3 hours while children between the ages of 3 and 5 watched about 2.5 hours a day. By 2014, children up to the age of 2 were watching an average of 3 hours per day – more than double the amount of time. It was found that children aged 3 to 5 did not have a significant increase.

The increase in the amount of screen time for infants and toddlers is telling. Our study reinforces general findings that a variety of characteristics, such as education and income levels, relate to screen use. Further research is needed, once data become available, to assess changes in media consumption and device use in more recent years

While there is much concern about the overuse of mobile devices to occupy and entertain children, it is important that more attention be paid to the amount of television they are consuming. 

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