mobilephoneplayIn some ways, parenting is easy. We know that we shouldn’t give our kids ice cream for every meal. We know that we shouldn’t let our kids play with rattlesnakes. And we know that a bandage on a boo-boo is sometimes all it takes to make everything better.

In other ways, however, being a parent is a bit harder. We don’t always know how to handle temper tantrums. We know that teaching a young child to use the toilet can be extremely frustrating. And if the latest report from Common Sense Media is any indication, one of the most difficult jobs for parents today is knowing how to help kids navigate the increasingly complex media environment.

The newly-released Common Sense Media report is the third in a series of national studies that looks at the media use of American children ages 0 to 8. As a follow-up to its 2011 and 2013 reports, this 2017 report shows that children’s media use continues to evolve—an evolution that leaves many parents wondering about the role media should play in their children’s lives.

How much time do kids spend with screens?
“The Common Sense Census” paints a clear picture about how much daily screen time the average young child experiences:

  • American children ages 0 to 8 use screen media for an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes each day. These numbers have changed only slightly in the past 6 years.
  • Children under age 2 spend about 42 minutes, children ages 2 to 4 spend 2 hours and 40 minutes, and kids ages 5 to 8 spend nearly 3 hours (2:58) with screen media daily.
  • About 35 percent of children’s screen time is spent with a mobile device, compared to 4 percent in 2011.
  • Nearly all children ages 0 to 8 (98 percent) now live in a home that has a mobile device, a percentage now equal to TV.

To put these numbers in perspective, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 18 months should not use any screen media except for video chatting, and that until age 5 children should be limited to one hour of screen time per day. It is clear from the Common Sense Census, then, that American children are spending far more time with screen media than is recommended, and much of that excess time may be because children today have easy access to mobile devices.

What parents think about children’s screen time
The report also describes what parents think about children’s screen time:

  • 75 percent of parents say their child uses “just the right amount” or “too little time” with screen media.
  • At the same time, nearly 80 percent of parents are at least somewhat concerned about how much violent and sexual content is in media.
  • 28 percent of parents say they strongly agree that “the less time children spend with media, the better.”

Taken together, these findings suggest that parents of young children are more concerned about the content of screen media to which their kids are exposed, and not so much about the amount of time their children spend with media. In other words, parents are optimistic about the power of media to help their children, but they are concerned that in their quest for positive media time their children will encounter undesirable content.

And that seems to be the crux of this difficult aspect of parenting: How do we help our kids make the most of positive media and reduce their risk of being influenced by potentially negative media? Fortunately, research provides us with some pretty clear guidance on how best to approach the task of media parenting:

  1. Talk with kids about media content: Talking to our kids about media content is perhaps the best way to help them learn the good and avoid the bad in media content. Parent-child conversations about media not only reinforce positive lessons, they may be essential to helping our kids get the most out of educational media.
  2. Use media with our kids: According to the Common Sense Census, 80 percent of parents are strongly or somewhat satisfied with the amount of quality educational TV available to them. Other research shows that spending time using media with our children is a great way to help them learn from and enjoy positive media. There are ample opportunities with PBS programming to do just this.
  3. Provide rules with reasons: Have you ever noticed that young kids seem to ask ‘why’ all the time? Research shows that when kids understand the reasons for the rules we set about how much time they can spend with media, or about what shows they can and cannot watch, they tend to respond better to media rules.

Constantly evolving technologies means that media parenting isn’t always going to be easy. But research shows that parents are a powerful force when it comes to changing how the media affects our kids. And because powerful parenting creates powerful kids, our media parenting efforts are worth our every effort.

Learn more effective ways to manage media:

About Eric Rasmussen, PhD

Eric Rasmussen, PhD, is a husband, father of four, professor of communication, and children and media researcher. He is the author of ChildrenAndMediaMan.com, and his mission is to get research about children and media off the academic shelves and into the hands of those who need it most—parents.

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