Research Summary

Digital childhood: Electronic media and technology use among infants, toddlers, and preschoolers

Young children are growing up in a media-saturated environment


In this study, E.A. Vandewater and colleagues investigate young children's media use in the United States. Data were collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation and included telephone interviews with over 1,000 parents of children aged 6 months to 6 years from a variety of demographic backgrounds. Vandewater and colleagues found that over 98% of the families surveyed owned at least one television and that the average number of working televisions was over 2.5 per household. In addition, the researchers found that many children had a television in their bedroom, including 18% of 0- to 2-year-olds and 43% of 3- to 4-year-olds. The most common reasons parents provided for having a television in their child's bedroom were to allow other family members to watch their own shows and to keep their child occupied. With regard to frequency of electronic media and technology use, Vandewater and colleagues found that most children watch some television everyday and the length of viewing averaged 1 hour and 10 minutes across age groups. While television is the dominant source of children's media use, the authors also report results related to videos or DVDs, video games, and computer use. In determining whether children met the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) media-use recommendations, Vandewater and colleagues found that only 32% of 0- to 2-year-olds met the AAP recommendation of no television, while 56% of 3- to 4-year-olds and 70% of 5 to 6-year-olds met the AAP recommendation of 2 hours or less of television per day. In examining various factors that might influence whether children fell within or outside of these guidelines, the authors found that media factors (e.g., whether there was a television in a child's bedroom) were significant predictors at all ages and that certain demographic factors (family structure and child gender) were important predictors for older children. In addition, Vandewater and colleagues found that there were no differences in the time children spent reading or playing outdoors between those who met the AAP guidelines and those who did not. The authors conclude the article by emphasizing the importance of additional research aimed at better understanding children's electronic media use and its potential impact on children's development.