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52 percent of kids under age 8 have access to mobile media

Common Sense Media

Mobile devices have become mini-pacifiers/babysitters for many wee ones: 52 percent of all children 8 and younger have access to mobile devices at home like a smartphone, video iPod, iPad or other tablet, according to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that studies children’s use of technology.

During a "typical" day, 11 percent of those young ones use a cellphone or other mobile devices for "media consumption," spending an average of 43 minutes with them.

Among the parents of these children, 29 percent have downloaded apps, or applications, specifically for their children to use on phones. You may see them in restaurants or in doctor's offices: a parent with their squirmy young one who is handed mom or dad's phone to stay occupied — and quiet.

The study, "Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America," is based on a survey of 1,384 parents of children up to 8 years old, and was conducted May 27-June 15, 2011.

For many years, of course, TV has been the leading tech babysitter for many children in the home; video games on handheld units like Nintendo's DS and Game Boy have also been glued to the palms of many little ones, both in the home and on the go.

But with more types of mobile media now available, things are changing and changing fast. Common Sense Media gives this perspective:

Today — 20 years after the birth of the World Wide Web, 13 years after the launch of Google Search, eight years after the start of the first social networking site, six years after the first YouTube video, four years after the introduction of the first touch-screen smartphone, three years after the opening of the first “app” store, and a little over a year after the first iPad sale — the media world that children are growing up in is changing at lightning speed.

Nine-month-olds spend nearly an hour a day watching television or DVDs, 5-year-olds are begging to play with their parents’ iPhones, and 7-year-olds are sitting down in front of a computer several times a week to play games, do homework, or check out how their avatars are doing in their favorite virtual worlds. Television is still as popular as ever, but reading may be beginning to trend downward.

Computer use continues to be "pervasive among very young children," with 53 percent of all 2- to 4-year-olds having used a computer, and 90 percent of 5- to -8-year olds. Among all children who have used a computer, the "average age at first use was just 3-1/2," Common Sense Media said.

Meanwhile, children under age 2 "spend twice as much time watching TV and videos (53 minutes) as they do reading books (23 minutes)," Common Sense Media says.

Common Sense Media

Nearly one in three of this age group has a TV in their bedroom.

While almost all American families have a TV or TVs in their homes, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are still relatively new — and expensive.

"There continues to be a substantial digital divide, including both computers and mobile devices," Common Sense Media says. While 72 percent of children through age 8 have a computer at home, "access ranges from 48 percent among those from low-income families (less than $30,000 a year) to 91 percent among higher-income families (more than $75,000 a year)."

When it comes to mobile devices, group calls that divided the "app gap," saying among children in lower-income families, 27 percent have a parent with a smartphone, compared to 57 percent for higher-income children. "One in 10 (10 percent) lower-income children has a video iPod or similar device in the home, compared to one in three (34 percent) upper-income children. And just 2 percent of lower-income children have a tablet device such as an iPad at home, compared to 17 percent of higher-income children."

And when it comes apps themselves: 38 percent of lower-income parents say they don’t even know what an app is, compared to just 3 percent of higher-income parents."

— Via Ad Age

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