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article image'Nearly all' children under 4 use mobile devices on a daily basis

By James Walker     Nov 2, 2015 in Technology
A U.S. study of mobile device usage by children under the age of 4 has concluded that they are faced with "almost universal exposure" to digital devices and most will have their own device by the time they turn four.
The study, led by Dr. Hilda Kabali of the Einstein Medical Centre in Philadelphia, focused on a low-income, urban minority community in Philadelphia. Published in the journal Pediatrics, it looked at the parents of 350 children aged between six months and four years.
CBC News reports that Dr. Kabali's team found 97 percent of the households involved had televisions, 83 percent had tablets and 77 percent had smartphones. 96.6 percent of the children were able to use these devices with most having their first experience with them before their first birthday.
Forty-four percent of the children under the age of one used a mobile device every day to play games or watch videos. Seventy percent of parents gave children a device to keep them occupied while they were doing house chores while 29 opted opted to use a device instead of a book at bedtime.
The most used app categories were entertainment and education. Video providers like YouTube and Netflix were especially popular with two-year olds watching an average of 29 minutes of online video each day. Overall daily screen exposure time for two-year olds was 44 minutes.
Most children began using devices daily from age two. At this age, 28 percent were able to navigate app interfaces without any assistance and 61 percent only needed occasional guidance. One in three used several devices at the same time, raising questions as to whether this could degrade the ability to concentrate on one single task in the future.
The team concludes that nearly all children will be using a mobile device on a daily basis before they are four years old while most will have their own smartphone or tablet. The researchers called for "urgent" investigations to determine how this usage affects child development so parents could be warned and issued with new guidance, writing: "The patterns of use suggest early adoption, frequent and independent use, and media multitasking. Studies are urgently needed to update recommendations for families and providers on the use of mobile media by young children."
Two years ago, a similar study by family advocacy group Common Sense Media found 38 percent of children under the age of two had used a mobile device to view rich media content such as videos or games. Common Sense Media founder and CEO Jim Steyer commented to Mashable: "We're seeing a fundamental change in the way kids consume media. Kids that can't even talk will will up to a TV screen and try to swipe it like an iPad or an iPhone."
There is currently very little knowledge of how use of mobile devices can affect cognitive, social and emotional development in very young children. Kabali emphasised the need for more research to be conducted so mobile devices can be used constructively as a child grows without hindering natural learning. Advice currently published by the study's publisher, the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that children under two should have minimal screen time as it could delay how children learn language.
More about Children, Technology, Development, Devices, screen time