Screen Time Higher Than Ever: Too Much Screen Time on Studies about Screen Time?

Future Mark Zuckerberg or Deviant? Photo,Common Sense Media
Key Finding 1: Young Children Use Digital Media Frequently
Thank you  Common Sense Media for this tantalizing finding from your new study Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America.  I will be sure to take into account how much screen time I've used to read and comment on it. 

Sure, someone needed to establish a baseline measure of children's screen time for psychologists and anthropologists to cite over and over in the coming decades if not millenia.  You know, in order to argue how gloriously screen-free we were back in the year 2011 when humans still had prehensile fingers to hold pencils and tongues to speak.

Oh the study looks good with it's large font and professional graphics including photos that surely would spruce up the scholarly journals (hint, hint).  Not sure what we're suppose to take away from the cute baby playing on mom's iPhone but surely readers should sigh and choke up at the youngsters engrossed in books during the photo shoot.


Of course this being an investigation of screen time the report slices and dices the data on how much and on what devices kiddies get their screen fixes (won't bore you with the details that you can read on Common Sense Media or a New York Times article) but must in keeping with the grave warnings of educators and librarians lament the lost art of reading books as in the print-on-paper, broken-spine musty dusty kind. 

Now I'm a huge reader myself who's raised a complete bookworm and who must have repaved my parking spot in the public library lot several times over with late fees but I'm not completely convinced that the rise of iPads, Nintendo DSs and other screens including the tv has significantly, meaningfully reduced reading time.  I'm fighting the digital battle at my house every day, but honestly stats like this don't mean much to me:
In a typical day, 47% of babies and toddlers ages 0 through 1 watch TV or DVDs, and those who do watch spend an average of nearly two hours (1:54) doing so. This is an average of :53 among all children in this age group, compared to an average of :23 a day reading or being read to. 

Um, infants watching television. Seriously? My children at one month could barely hold their heads up  much less focus on the screen ten feet away. 

Anyhow the subtitle on this data says Children under 2 spend twice as much time watching TV and videos as they do reading books.  But stats appear only for those under 1, that's annoying.  Why? I like my data but also I'm finding it difficult to believe babies actually "watch" tv especially for more than a few minutes.  An hour of any one activity with an infant can be grueling.  Including reading. It's good to know how much babies sit in front of the screen but I'm not sure about the actual watching behavior.  They may sit there for a half an hour but really what are they doing? I'm guessing there's also an older sibling or two to watch.  They tend to be much more interesting than a tv.   

In any event kids watch lots of tv in plenty of studies and this one is no exception (1 hour and 44 minutes a day).  This is hardly earth-shattering.  In fact, the only real nugget here is the well-named new phenomenon - App Gap - a nod to the disparity in App downloads between the kiddie haves and have-nots. 

Speaking of the Digital Divide, the New York Times chose to use a graphic showing nearly half of kids have tvs in their bedrooms (42% to be exact).  Common Sense Media focused on the Bedroom Television too that incidentally pops up most frequently in low income homes.   

Ah, the Bedroom DS? Bedroom iPads, Bedroom iPod Touches? 

No one bothered to inquire into their exact whereabouts.  HHhmmm.

Well that concludes our screen time together.  When you track your screen time for the day let me know if you've logged this portion under Educational, Recreational or I-Couldn't-Possibly-Choose.  Feel free to count it towards your daily reading and for you multi-taskers who are on the treadmill right now, exercise.


Awesome Mom said...

That 0-1 demographic makes me laugh a little, after all babies don't get full eyesight until several months into life. How would they really even be seeing a tv let alone watching it? Also as you pointed out attention span is not really going to mean that they pay attention for the whole time the tv is on.

It makes me a bit grumpy when I see kids with technology better than what I have. I wish my mommy and daddy would give me an iPad or pay the insane monthly costs of a smart phone. Sometimes being a responsible adult sucks and it sure is a lot less fun than I thought it was going to be when I was a kid.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Oh yes, Awesome, forgot about the lack of eyesight! Absolutely. Of course not many 1 and 2 month olds can even lift their heads up let alone focus on the screen.

Now I'm even more annoyed.

I hear you and hey, I would just like more time to watch tv.

TherExtras said...

hehe. Tell me more about the children under 2 who DO read.

I can't do better than the comment I made here:


MrPopularSentiment said...

Just a note on the screen time in the 0-1 category, I have a friend who straps her baby in the stroller and parks it in front of the TV. She's been doing this since he was about 3months old while she does chores or watches TV herself.

I agree with you that her son probably isn't watching in the same sense that we do, but his attention is definitely caught (moving colours, sounds...). I don't know how often or for how long she's been doing this, but I have never gone to visit her without finding him strapped.

She says it keeps him happy while she gets things done. Go figure.

My point is that I believe that infants 0-1 (which is a broad range, during most of which kids are perfectly able to look at things) can be said to watch TV. I don't know how prevalent the practice of using the TV as babysitter is, but I doubt it's all that rare.

But yes, defined terms would, of course, be nice.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey MrPop! Okay so thanks for providing Exhibit A: Infants who do see a lot of television. I'm more put off by the strapped in than plugged in part. Can your friend let the baby (? how old?) just crawl around or sit freely?

MrPopularSentiment said...

She's afraid that he'll hurt himself or break something, or just that he'll get bored. My son gets a lot of "independent play time," but when she sees me doing this she tells me that's bad and babies need to be entertained all the time.

It's hard to convince her that she's wrong when she thinks exactly the same thing about me!

It's tricky to separate temperament from conditioning, or even to establish causal direction, but certainly her baby is a lot more needy than mine and will generally start crying if he's just put on the floor with some toys (although he does engage my son with some parallel play).

Both boys are in the 8-9 month range.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Oh no, I'm seeing the child who can't play by herself. Have you told your friend about the value of unstructured play time directed by the child for the child (i.e. adults not directing or entertaining, no tv, no script...).