When You Give a Kid a Tablet, He’ll Ask for More Time

Experts Debate Tech Benefits for Kids, But Parents See Positives.

Modern culture offers an indelible image that draws both praise and criticism. It’s of children, hunched over their smartphones and tablets, their faces illuminated by the glow of their devices. We see it everywhere we look, on the street, in our homes and in our classrooms. Technology is ubiquitous, yet not everyone agrees on the kind of impact it has on our children.
Today’s children are surrounded by screens. In fact, the average household has 7.3, according to a new survey by ReportLinker. And although the most popular is a TV, with 93% of mentions, our homes also include an astonishing array of digital devices, such as smartphones (79% of mentions), laptops (78% of mentions), and tablets (68% of mentions).

How many screens do Americans have at home.

We can find such devices in almost every room of the home, but the more technology a family owns, the more likely it is to end up in the children’s bedrooms. More than half of all respondents (56%) say some devices are available in the bedroom, according to ReportLinker, but among those who own five or more devices, two-thirds say they allow their children to keep some technology in their bedrooms. By comparison, just 25% of those with one or two devices say they allow technology in their children’s bedrooms.

Children are still mostly drawn to television, and the TV remains the most popular device used by them at home, with 62% of mentions. But other devices are gaining in popularity, including tablets (47% of mentions), smartphones (39% of mentions) and video game consoles (38% of mentions). Among children 10 years old and younger, however, tablets are the favorite. With more than half of children aged 5 or younger using tablets at home, this device has the potential to unseat TV as the favorite of future generations.

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Which portable devices American children use at home.

Not surprisingly, all this access plays a role in how much time children spend looking at screens. Although half of all parents say they limit device use to two hours a day, in households where devices are available in bedrooms, children tend to spend more time with them. For example, 45% of those who allow devices in the bedrooms say their children use them from three to five hours per day and 15% say they permit more than five hours of daily use. By contrast, two-thirds of children whose parents who don’t allow devices in the bedrooms will spend less than two hours a day using them, ReportLinker says.

Children are likely to spend more time using smartphones and video game consoles than other devices, according to ReportLinker. Sixty-two percent of parents say their kids spend three or more hours using a smartphone, compared to 57% who say their children spend more than three hours a day playing video games.

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53% of American kids play with their tech devices less than 2 hours per day.

This activity mostly occurs during a child’s spare time, parents say, (82% of mentions), as well as before bedtime (33%) and before or after meals (31% of mentions). It’s notable that children who have devices in their bedroom are also more likely to use them before falling asleep (23% of mentions), before going to bed (42% of mentions) or in their spare time (85% of mentions).

85% of American children usually use their devices in their spare time.

As children spend more time with devices, child development and education experts disagree about the devices’ potential benefits or harm. Some, like Spencer Yates, managing partner at creative technology agency, Tangent Snowball, believe children gain research and technology skills. Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” believes children who spend too much time staring at screens lose the ability to empathize and read social cues. Other experts warn that being tethered to a device can lead to physical and psychological problems, including obesity and diabetes. Meanwhile, psychologists suggest such frequent exposure is re-wiring the developing brain in very different ways than in previous generations.
Despite the diverging opinions of the experts, three-quarters of parents are relatively positive about the impact technology has on their children. In fact, almost half of them believe that technology can be beneficial, so it’s not surprising that 32% of parents who are more permissive about letting children have devices in their bedrooms also believe children should be used to electronics. By comparison, 19% of parents who don’t permit electronics in the bedroom believe technology ruins the essence of childhood.

75% of Americans have a negative opinion about children & technology

In fact, four out of 10 parents believe technology promotes school readiness and cognitive development, and as a result, they view electronics more positively. Another main advantage mentioned by a quarter of parents is that they believe their children should be tech-savvy, which is especially true for a third of parents whose youngest child is between 11- and 15-years-old. A quarter of these parents also believe technology expands a child’s horizons. This may be why parents allow their children to own a smartphone at a minimum age of 13.5, on average,according to ReportLinker.

Still, despite such favorable opinions of technology, parents seem to have a nagging worry that it’s not all good. Although one-fifth of US parents say they don’t believe there are disadvantages to their children’s use of technology, a third view some serious consequences. Because they’re busy using electronic devices, their children don’t play, go outside or read as much. By contrast, 51% of parents who say they believe technology is ruining the essence of childhood are more likely to say their children spend less time playing, going outside and reading. In addition, almost a third of all parents believe their children are more isolated because they have fewer social interactions.

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Advantages & disadvantages of kids' use of tech devices according to Americans.

As many parents know, keeping the kids away from their electronic devices isn’t easy. One option is to limit usage time, but this can be challenging. Forty-two percent of parents told ReportLinker that managing the amount of time kids spend using devices is challenging. However, more than half admit their children manage their time themselves when playing with tech devices.
That may explain why 43% of households where children are in front of screens more than five hours per day are also the ones in which parents say they believe they can trust kids to manage their own screen time. Likewise, when technology is allowed in bedrooms, parents are more likely to be very convinced of their child’s ability to manage their own screen time. Meanwhile, those parents who keep devices out of the child’s bedroom tend to regulate when and how much time kids can spend with their electronics.

58% of Americans think their children manage their time themselves when playing with tech devices.

Although every household takes a different approach to managing children’s access and time spent on devices, 83% of parents recognize the importance of keeping an eye on the content their children are watching, and they are more likely to have activated the parental supervision on all devices at home (71%). In the US, seven out of 10 parents say they’ve activated such software on their devices, especially those who limit their child’s access to no more than two hours a day (79%), according to ReportLinker. However, nearly half of parents who permit their children to use electronics before falling asleep are surprisingly more likely not to activate the parental supervision on all their devices (46%).

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83% of Americans say they often know the kind of content their children are watching on portable devices.

For parents, there is no easy answer to how to manage the advances of technology during childhood. As experts continue to debate the impact, perhaps the best answer is technology itself. Tools such as Amazon’s Parent Dashboard can help them monitor usage of devices like the Kindle Fire Kids Edition. Ultimately, however, technology isn’t going away, and parents – like their kids – will find ways to adapt.


This survey conducted by ReportLinker reached 670 online respondents representative of the US population, still having children under 15 and having at least one device at home. Interviews were conducted between April, 14th and April, 17th 2017.