Are Kids Getting Too Much Screen Time?


Here’s something eMarketer considers to be “an anomaly of the digital era”: While few children have smartphones of their own or participate in the social networks that teens and adults are heavily involved in, they certainly get a lot of screen time.

Is this an alarming addiction?

A June 2018 survey conducted for Comcast by Wakefield Research finds that 76% of parents said their kids are “more addicted to their devices than to candy.”

Then, there’s a June 2018 survey by Edelman Intelligence for kid-friendly brand GoGo Squeez that found a similar proportion of parents who said their kids engage in more screen time than the parents would like.

US Parent Internet Users' Attitudes Toward Screen Time for Their Children, June 2018 (% of respondents)

A new eMarketer report—US Kids and Digital 2018: What Matters and What Doesn’t for These Digital Natives— finds that the screen time problem is not limited to kids approaching their teens.

It uses a March 2018 YouGov survey (in conjunction with an organization called Read About 15 Minutes and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) is finding that many parents of kids ages 2 and younger lamenting the amount of time their children spend using digital devices—and watching TV.

US Parents Who Say Their Child Spends Too Much Time Watching TV and Using Devices, by Age of Child, Jan 2018 (% of respondents in each group)

One reason why parents worry about kids’ screen time is the tendency to displace other activities—a worry that dates to the 1950s.

A June 2018 survey for Northwestern Mutual by Wakefield Research finds that more than one-third of parents complained that their kids “spend more time on their tech devices instead of with their families each day.”

There is also concern that sedentary screen time takes away physical activity and therefore contributes to poor health among kids.

A March 2018 survey by Lego among kids ages 5 to 12 concluded that “digital play” ranked atop the hierarchy of their recreational pastimes, with 87% citing it as their favorite—32 percentage points higher than those citing “physical play.”

Favorite Play Activities According to US Children, March 2018 (% of respondents)

“As smart speakers become more common household appliances, they can add to the amount of time kids spend with digital technology,” eMarketer writes. “In an odd twist, though, some parents see speaker usage as a benign alternative to a screen and hope that the former will displace some of the latter.”

That happens to be one of the reasons why some parents have invested in smart speakers, June 2018 research conducted by NPR and Edison Research concludes.

“Among parents who have owned smart speakers for a year or more, 24% said they bought them in part to reduce kids’ screen time,” says eMarketer. “Among respondents who have owned the device for less than a year, 43% said the same. If they do have access, kids use smart speakers for multiple purposes. Often it’s simply for fun, as with the 55% whose parents say they use the speakers to play music. But speakers can have practical utility, as with the 25% of kids who use them for help with homework.”