The average youngster between the ages of 0 and 8 in the U.S. spends about 58 minutes daily watching television and 48 minutes daily engaging with a mobile device, according to a new study.
The good news is the age group's TV watching is down by 11 minutes a day compared to six years ago, according to Common Sense, a self-described nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to "improving the lives of kids, families and educators by providing the trustworthy information, education and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology."
The not-so-good news, depending on your perspective: The average screen time for mobile devices is up by 43 minutes daily, researchers say in "The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2017." In 2011, when the first Common Sense survey was done, it was just five minutes daily with mobile devices. The survey included 1,400 parents from diverse educational, geographic, racial/ethnic and economic backgrounds.
"Media have become such a central part of children's lives that understanding which media activities children are engaged in, for how long, and in what context, is essential knowledge for those who are working to support children's healthy development," the survey report's authors say.
Other noteworthy findings in the survey include:
- 49% of parents report their kids watch TV, videos or play video games in the hour prior to bedtime and have these devices in their rooms, despite a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that they refrain for an hour before bedtime and they not sleep with them.
- 67% of parents believe their children learn from screen media, though they are concerned about the violence, sexual content and advertising their children see.
- 43% of children under age two are not read to on a daily basis, despite an AAP recommendation that they are read to from infancy.
"We hope the research presented in this report will serve as a compass and inspiration as we all navigate the continually shifting technology landscape and strive to improve the quality of children's media, help families achieve a healthy and balanced approach to media, and teach our children to be critical thinkers wherever they encounter media," the authors say.
The results are grounds for concern, says Glen Steele, O.D., co-chair of the AOA InfantSEE® and Children's Vision Committee. InfantSEE is a public health program managed by Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation. Dr. Steele also is professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee.
The presence of digital devices is ubiquitous, says Dr. Steele, noting the survey's finding that 98% of households had mobile devices.
"It is a significant concern that device use is increasing so rapidly and becoming so much more sophisticated," Dr. Steele says. "But we are not going to eliminate device use in children, so the key is to use them in moderation.
"The use of mobile devices requires more sophisticated visual function to participate," he adds. "The young visual system is not prepared for this type of sustained activity but it is socially compulsive—all of their friends are doing it. When they force themselves on through the discomfort, secondary vision problems are created, particularly in focusing. We do know that visually, the child must defocus in gaming. This potentially reduces the child's ability to sustain near-focus activities, such as reading, when they are younger."
Prolonged smartphone use also has been linked to dry eye, underscoring the need for routine, in-person, comprehensive eye examinations. The AOA recommends that children get their first eye examinations between the ages of six months and one year and periodic exams thereafter. Read more in the AOA Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline: Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination.
Doctors of optometry and parents have a role in monitoring use and supporting children's visual development.
For instance, Dr. Steele says, doctors can inform parents about the "20/20/20 rule"—take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. Looking at screens for long periods of time, causing near-point stress, can lead to headaches, blurriness and eyestrain and can distract youngsters from the typical visual development needed for traditional classroom activities.
"Consider lenses for near-point to decrease the impact of sustained use of devices," Dr. Steele says. "Parents should not use digital devices as a babysitter for infants and young children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends such devices should not be used at all prior to the age of two. Use in moderation after age two beginning on a limited time—a few minutes—which may increase as they age."
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