Tech Trends

Survey: Technology Use Almost Universal for U.S. Children Under 6

A new national survey of technology use by children under 6 indicates that 85 percent of parents allow their young children to use technology in the home. More than three quarters of parents surveyed said they use tech along with their children on a daily basis for up to two hours, with television, tablets, smartphones and computers the most frequently used. Overall, only 15 percent of parents said their young children do not have access to technology in the home.

The survey, conducted by the Erikson Institute, also found that 86 percent of American parents said they are satisfied with how their young children access and use technology, citing benefits including positive child development, literacy, school readiness and school success. At the same time, however, 72 percent of parents expressed significant concerns about the downside of tech use among children, including too much screen time, inappropriate content, commercial messages aimed at kids and less active play, particularly outdoors.

“It is clear that even the youngest children are using technology on a daily basis,” said Geoffrey Nagle, president and CEO of the Erikson Institute, in a statement. “The key is to accept this and to support parents and other adults who work with young children so they have the best information available to instill healthy technology habits and support positive development during the early years.”

Parents identified other family members, pediatricians and early childhood teachers as trusted sources about technology and young children. However, only 36 percent of parent reported that their pediatrician had talked with them about tech use. For these parents, the conversation was quite meaningful, as they were more likely to choose pediatricians as their trusted source.

When parents were asked to rank each of these sources individually, 51 percent ranked pediatricians as the most trusted source, followed by family members (45 percent) and early childhood teachers (38 percent).

For the survey, 1,000 American parents with children under 6 were interviewed online. The market research firm YouGov conducted the survey for the Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood Center between Aug. 18-29, 2016. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education that matched a 2013 American Community Survey Sample collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

At the end of the report, experts at Erikson’s Technology in Early Childhood Center offered some tips:

  • Parents are the most influential media role models for children so we need to pay attention to our own media use and misuse.
  • Not all screens are created equal — it’s time to rethink screen time. Shift your focus from how much they watch to the quality of the content and opportunity for interactions.
  • Relationships matter most in a child’s early years. Explore technology with your young children. Research finds that joint exploration promotes learning.
  • Healthy technology use is about balance. Look for parent-child experiences that require no technology at all and use technology to support the joy of learning.
  • Manage the impact of technology on family time. It can include screen time but children also need family time without screens and digital devices. Plan to unplug. Ask, “What can we do together when we turn our devices off?”

The full Erikson Institute survey is available on this site.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].