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Despite the Popularity of Smart Devices, Children are Watching more TV than Ever, Study Finds

Posted February 19, 2019

Surely, given the near-universal use of smart devices like smartphones and tablets, most of us would suspect that watching TV – seen as out-dated or even old-fashioned by some – is on the decline.

We probably would. And we would be wrong – a new study on screen time conducted by researchers from the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work have found that after 17 years since 2014 when smart devices became widely available, the trusty old “boob tube” still commands more eyeballs than its more advanced brothers and sisters.

“There is growing concern over the amount of time children, particularly very young children, spend watching shows in front of screens,” said Weiwei Chen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. “Our findings were surprising as it feels like mobile devices are omnipresent, but televisions are still the most common way for young children to consume media.”

Based on the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, which relied on written diary data provided by parents instead of general surveys filled out at a later date (thereby reducing parental recall bias), the time children spend watching TV has in some cases increased, while remaining constant in others.

Quite surprisingly, in some cohorts of children TV-watching has actually went up since the moment when smart devices became widely available. Image: R. Nial Bradshaw via, CC BY 2.0.

Specifically, in 1997 children under the age of 2 spent 1.3 hours in front of the TV per day on average, while children between the ages of 3 and 5 did the same for 2.5 hours. By 2014, however, the latter group showed no significant change, while the former group more than doubled their time spent watching TV, clocking in at 3 hours per day.

“The increase in the amount of screen time for infants and toddlers is telling. Our study reinforces general findings that a variety of characteristics, such as education and income levels, relate to screen use,” said co-author on the study Professor Jessica L. Adler. “Further research is needed, once data become available, to assess changes in media consumption and device use in more recent years.”

Based on these findings, parents who worry about the excessive amount of time their children spend glued to their smartphones and tablets might do well to pay more attention to their littlest ones who, it turns out, bear the brunt of increased time spent watching TV.


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