Children’s Technology Time in Two US Cohorts

Abstract

Over the last two decades, technologies available to children have accelerated with the advent of wireless internet and increasing portability and affordability of electronic devices. Children’s technology use is a rapidly evolving challenge for families, organizing their everyday lives and potentially resulting in social disparities in technology use and displacement of healthy behaviors. This study examined time spent on technology use, physical activity, play, and sleep by US children across early (ages 2–5) and middle (ages 6–11) childhood in two cohorts using time diary data with a focus on variation by class and race. Data came from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement in 1997 (N = 2193) and 2014–2016 (N = 1009). Multivariate regression models estimated total time spent engaged in technology use, physical activity, unstructured play, and sleep. Total time spent engaged with technology increased 32% since 1997 in early childhood and 23% in middle childhood. Technology use was lowest for children with the most highly educated parents. In the more recent cohort, technology use was associated with displacement of physical activity in middle childhood but with increased play in early childhood and increased sleep in middle childhood. Results suggest that changes over time in technology use have restructured children’s everyday lives in ways that may be consequential for health and development, but co-occurring declines in physical activity and unstructured play cannot be attributed solely to technology time.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Robustness checks were performed to address differential reporter bias between parents and children. Specifically, all models were run while excluding cases in which children completed time diaries without parental assistance. Results were similar to models presented here. By retaining these cases, we are able to preserve generalizability and sample size.

  2. 2.

    Supplemental analyses using parent-reported survey responses in CDS (not shown) examined children’s access to specific device types in early and middle childhood. In 2014, nearly 80% of children ages 2–5 had access to a smartphone or tablet. This percentage was slightly higher in middle childhood, with 86% of children having access to a smartphone or tablet. Although most children had access to a smartphone or tablet regardless of age, computer use was much more prevalent once children reached school age. Among young children, 33% had access to a computer, compared to 74% in middle childhood.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by National Science Foundation grant SES 1729463. We also thank the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)-funded University of Colorado Population Center (P2C HD066613) for development, administrative, and computing support. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF, NICHD, or the National Institutes. We thank Kevin Le, Adenife Modile, Jennifer Pace, Bethany Rigles, and Kim Truong-Vu for their assistance.

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Goode, J.A., Fomby, P., Mollborn, S. et al. Children’s Technology Time in Two US Cohorts. Child Ind Res 13, 1107–1132 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-019-09675-x

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Keywords

  • Technology
  • Media
  • Early childhood
  • Middle childhood
  • Time diaries
  • CDS