Young children have tripled their mobile device use from four years ago, altering the nature and experience of their media consumption, even as their overall media use has stayed fairly constant at around two hours of screen time a day.
The Common Sense Census — released Thursday by Common Sense Media, an independent, nonprofit group dedicated to helping children navigate media and technology — showed that children ages 0 to 8 averaged 48 minutes a day on a mobile device in 2017, up from 15 minutes in 2013 and five minutes in 2011.
And 45 percent of those kids are watching on their own mobile device, a huge leap from the 3 percent of young tablet or phone owners in 2011.
Even if kids don't have their own device, 98 percent of homes with children under 8 have a mobile device, compared with 52 percent of homes in 2011.
Mobile device use is different from watching TV or a movie because it's "more individual, immersive and on-demand," said Dr. Jenny Radesky, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan who studies digital media use by young children and their parents.
"It influences interpersonal dynamics differently and can be harder to break yourself (or your child) away from," she wrote in an introduction to the report. "For these reasons, parents describe it as more difficult to mediate and manage.”
The report is the result of a nationally representative, probability-based online survey of 1,454 parents with children ages 8 or younger and mirrors the questions Common Sense Media asked of parents in 2011 and 2013. The margin of error is +/- 3 percent.
Parents interviewed by the Deseret News said they're working to set media boundaries, but it's not always easy.
Initially there were tantrums when Tarren Smoot told her 4-year-old daughter that her internet-disconnected tablet was only for long car rides and occasional eating out. But the 35-year-old mother of three young girls held firm, and the power struggles eventually subsided.
On any given day, Smoot, who lives in Layton, will let her older daughters, 4 and 2, watch an episode or two of "Wild Kratts" or "Sofia the First," but when they start to get cranky or irritable, Smoot knows it's time to turn off Netflix — maybe even for several days — and encourage more imaginative play.
"I feel like it’s a constant threat of being too present in our lives," Smoot said of media and technology.
The newest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics are that children ages 2 to 5 spend one hour or less with digital media each day and that children under 18 months have no screen time, although some supervised video chatting — like Skyping with grandma — can be beneficial.
For school-age children and adolescents, the AAP encourages parents to "develop personalized media use plans for their children that attend to each child’s age, health, temperament, and developmental stage," according to a 2016 policy statement. "Research evidence shows that children and teenagers need adequate sleep, physical activity, and time away from media."
The AAP also recommends no screen time one hour before bed and no devices in the bedroom, as bright screens can hamper healthy sleep habits in both children and adults.
Research has shown that children's excessive use of media can increase their risk of obesity, decrease mental performance, increase violent or aggressive attitudes and even affect their ability to recognize emotions.
Ali Malovich readily admits that her 3-year-old daughter watches too much Netflix — she'd blow through an entire season of "Sofia the First" in one sitting if Malovich didn't intervene. So she tries to help keep her daughter busy with toys, trips to the park and running errands, then allows a movie in the afternoon.
There's no phone or iPad use at their home because Malovich doesn't like not knowing what her daughter is seeing and she worries about all the junk on the internet.
While she knows her daughter should have an hour or less of screen time each day per the AAP guidelines, it's often closer to two or three hours, which "drives me crazy," Malovich says.
"I like all those guidelines," says the 27-year-old West Bountiful mom who works part time from home, "but I don't follow them. I think most people are worse than I am."
One problem may be that many parents still don't know about the guidelines.
The Common Sense Census found that only 20 percent of parents know the AAP recommendations, 51 percent don't know but want to learn and 29 percent say they don't know and don't care.
When Dr. Matthew Chabot of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Utah Farmington Health Center mentions the AAP guidelines, some parents are eager to apply them, while others are "actively displeased," he said.
For those whose children chafe at the idea of limits, Chabot suggests working in incremental steps. First, remove the tablet, phone or screen from one area of the house, such as the bedroom or car, or one time of day, like dinnertime. Then, set a kitchen timer when media time begins and agree to turn it off at the "ding."
An easier transition is swapping out the evening movie for story time.
"Where screens have been shown to hurt developmental outcomes," Chabot said, "books have been shown to help developmental outcomes."
Regarding reading, the report found that children still prefer paper books. Of the 29 minutes that children spend reading or being read to each day, 26 are in print and only three are electronic, according to the report.
Another big finding from the report was the impact of parental income and education on a child's media consumption rate.
Children from low-income homes spend an average of almost an hour and 40 minutes more with screens each day than do kids from higher-income homes.
And in homes where parents have less education, children spend 1 hour and 13 minutes more per day with digital media than do kids of higher-educated parents.
There were no statistical differences in the amount of screen time based on a child's gender, race or ethnicity; however, there were big differences in how parents from different backgrounds felt about their kids' experiences with media.
Hispanic/Latino parents were much more concerned than other parents about the topics in media, such as sexual content, violence, drugs and alcohol, gender stereotypes and racial and ethnic stereotypes.
In fact, 43 percent of Hispanic/Latino parents strongly agreed that "the less time kids spend with screen media, the better off they are," while only 23 percent of white parents and 13 percent of African-American parents felt the same way.
However, the report also pointed out that parents have "mixed views," because despite concerns about media topics, when it comes to their child, 74 percent of parents say their child benefits from the media they use, and 68 percent say their child spends just the right amount of time with screen media.
Another finding from the report was that there are homes in which online screen time still isn't an option.
In 2017, only 74 percent of low-income kids had access to high-speed internet at home, compared with 96 percent of high-income kids. The division has narrowed since 2011, when the gap was 42 percent to 92 percent, but there's still a large swath of kids who remain unconnected at home, according to the report.
This has led to the creation of a new term, the "homework gap," wrote Julián Castro, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who spearheaded the ConnectHome initiative to bring low-cost broadband to low-income families with school-age children.
"As school curricula increasingly shift to online educational portals," he wrote in the report, "the lack of reliable broadband access to those resources at home is a crippling disadvantage, setting back even the most motivated learners."