By the time children are 1 year old, one in seven uses a mobile device for at least an hour a day, according to a study presented today at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in San Diego.

Of children younger than 1 year, 52 percent had watched television shows, 36 percent had touched or scrolled a screen, 24 percent had called someone, 15 percent used apps, and 12 percent played video games.

baby mobile

By age 2, most kids were using mobile devices in some way. Their usage increased as they aged, with 26 percent of 2-year-olds and 38 percent of 4-year-olds using devices for at least an hour a day.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Hilda Kabali, a third-year resident in the pediatrics department at Einstein Healthcare Network, said the most surprising finding was that young children can use more than one mobile device at the same time.

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Parents Quizzed on Youngsters’ Habits

The study gathered information from 370 parents with children ages 6 months to 4 years old who were at a hospital-based pediatric clinic that serves an urban, low-income, minority community.

Participants answered a 20-item survey that was adapted from the “Zero to Eight” Common Sense Media national survey on media use in children. That survey provided data on children’s use of media and technology and the impact it has on their physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development.

The survey questioned what types of media devices participants have in their household, how old their children were when they were first exposed to mobile media, how often they use mobile devices, what types of activities they engage in with mobile media, and whether their pediatrician had discussed media use with them.

Results showed that 97 percent of participants have televisions, 83 percent have tablets, 77 percent have smartphones, and 59 percent have Internet access.

“The proliferation of media in young children’s lives has become more complicated now that people are walking around with video in their pocket. That’s different than turning the television off or not putting a television in a child’s bedroom, which can contain the delivery of the media content. Now it’s much more layered,” said Shelley Pasnik, director of the Center for Children and Technology, which investigates the roles of technology in improving teaching and learning within children’s lives.

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When Kids Are Using Technology

As far as when kids use devices, study results revealed that 73 percent of parents let their children play with mobile devices while doing household chores, 60 percent while running errands, 65 percent to calm a child, and 29 percent to put a child to sleep.

“Many parents are harried, have a lot of demands on them, and are certainly short on time, so it’s not surprising that parents have integrated the very devices that are part of their own lives into family patterns in order to come up with a few minutes to tend to the dishes or the trash or laundry,” Pasnik said.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of televisions, computers, smartphones, and tablets by children under 2 years old, 30 percent of parents surveyed said their child’s pediatrician had discussed media use with them.

“I think pediatricians have a real opportunity to help parents in understanding their kids’ development when it comes to media engagement, as well as other things, and not just solely focus on the body but rather on the whole child,” said Pasnik.

Kabali agrees, saying pediatricians need to recommend age-appropriate media and educational resources to parents from early infancy. She adds the study showed mobile media is ubiquitous.

“Its content differs from TV; therefore, it will be important for parents to guide their children’s media experience,” she said.

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