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Common Sense Monitoring: Stats About the Internet Habits of Young Children

Last Updated: April 15, 2015

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Children’s media habits are out of balance. At least that’s what the latest report from the Sesame Workshop is saying.

Recently the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released their report about how younger children (0-11 years old) are consuming media. Always Connected: The new digital media habits of young children addresses everything from TV to the Internet, mobile devices to video games.

Reviewing seven never-before-released studies from the past five years, Always Connected is one of the most exhaustive reports about the media diet of young children.

How children are using the Internet

  • About two-thirds of families with children under 11 have computers (almost all with Internet connections).
  • At age 3, a fourth of children go online daily. By age 5, this increases to about half. By age 8, two-thirds of children use the Internet on any given weekday.
  • Among 0-5-year-olds who use the Internet, about 80% do so at least once a week.
  • Children ages 5-9 spend 28 minutes online every day on average.
  • In 2009, children ages 8-10 spent 46 minutes every day online. This was up from 19 minutes in 2006.
  • Over 60% of children under age 3 watch video online.
  • More than one-third of children over age 5 say their favorite websites are those tied to television networks (like Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel or PBS).
  • 71% of children ages 5-9 use the Internet in households earning more than $100,000. In households earning less than $50,000, that number is 51%.
  • Wealthier children access the Internet at greater rates, but spend less time online than their lower-income peers.
  • Among children ages 8-14, Hispanic children spend almost two hours online each day, 40 minutes more than white children.
  • Among children 2-11, about 36% use the TV and Internet simultaneously.

Digital media habits shift around age 8

Between the ages of 7 and 9, children begin to extend their media habits, when they begin to move beyond television to other media formats. The percentage of children using the Internet and video games tends to increase dramatically in this age bracket. Children are also more likely to personally own media devices. For instance, 30% of 6-year-olds have a TV in their room, but that number almost doubles (59%) by age 8.

Social and developmental changes play a major role in this shift. Fine-motor skills are honed at this age to be able to use a keyboard and controllers. Seven- and 8-year-olds can also focus on activities for longer stretches of time. Their literacy skills can be used to operate digital media. This is also the age when children begin to develop stronger relationships outside the family, showing a greater interest in peer-acceptance and shared popular culture (such as music or games).

Guidelines for parents

“Media platforms by themselves are neutral,” state the authors of Always Connected, “what matters most are the choices made by parents, educators, educational production companies, and other content providers in order to encourage a balanced pattern of consumption.”

While there are some research-based guidelines for hours of TV consumption, none have been created for other types of media. Attention among researchers, rather, has shifted to common-sense monitoring of the content: What is your child’s “media diet”? What are they watching? Is their media time mostly intentional learning time, or recreational and entertainment-based? It is up to parents to ensure their children are consuming a well-balanced diet that stimulates learning.

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