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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
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.
Anderson, S. E., Economos, C. D., & Must, A. (2008). Active play and screen time in US children aged 4 to 11 years in relation to sociodemographic and weight status characteristics: A nationally representative cross-sectional analysis. BMC Public Health, 8(1), 366. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-8-366.
Bassett, D. R., John, D., Conger, S. A., Fitzhugh, E. C., & Coe, D. P. (2015). Trends in physical activity and sedentary behaviors of United States youth. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12(8), 1102–1111. https://doi.org/10.1123/jpah.2014-0050.
Beebe, D. W. (2011). Cognitive, behavioral, and functional consequences of inadequate sleep in children and adolescents. Pediatric Clinics, 58(3), 649–665.
Brodie, M., Flournoy, R. E., Altman, D. E., Blendon, R. J., Benson, J. M., & Rosenbaum, M. D. (2000). Health information, the internet, and the digital divide. Health Affairs, 19(6), 255–265. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.19.6.255.
Brown, J. E., & Dunn, P. K. (2011). Comparisons of Tobit, linear, and Poisson-gamma regression models: An application of time use data. Sociological Methods & Research, 40(3), 511–535. https://doi.org/10.1177/0049124111415370.
Brownson, R. C., Boehmer, T. K., & Luke, D. A. (2005). Declining rates of physical activity in the United States: What are the contributors? Annual Review of Public Health, 26(1), 421–443. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.26.021304.144437.
Calarco, J. M. (2014). Coached for the classroom: Parents’ cultural transmission and children’s reproduction of educational inequalities. American Sociological Review, 79(5), 1015–1037.
Cantlon, J. F., & Li, R. (2013). Neural activity during natural viewing of sesame street statistically predicts test scores in early childhood. PLoS Biology, 11(1), e1001462. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001462.
Cappuccio, F. P., Taggart, F. M., Kandala, N.-B., Currie, A., Peile, E., Stranges, S., & Miller, M. A. (2008). Meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults. Sleep, 31(5), 619–626.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Early brain development and health. Child Development. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/early-brain-development.html. Accessed 12 June 2018.
Chóliz, M. (2010). Mobile phone addiction: A point of issue. Addiction, 105(2), 373–374. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02854.x.
Collins, W. A. (Ed.). (1984). Development during middle childhood: The years from six to twelve. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
Eisner, S. (2010). Grave New World? Workplace skills for Today’s college graduates. American Journal of Business Education; Littleton, 3(9), 27–50.
Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182–191. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-2697.
Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 50–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2014.07.007.
Hinkley, T., Brown, H., Carson, V., & Teychenne, M. (2018). Cross sectional associations of screen time and outdoor play with social skills in preschool children. PLoS One, 13(4), e0193700. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193700.
Hofferth, S. L. (2006). Response bias in a popular indicator of reading to children. Sociological Methodology, 36(1), 301–315. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9531.2006.00182.x.
Hofferth, S. L. (2010). Home media and children’s achievement and behavior. Child Development, 81(5), 1598–1619. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01494.x.
Hofferth, S. L., & Sandberg, J. F. (2001). How American children spend their time. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(2), 295–308. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00295.x.
Institute for Social Research. (1997). Panel study of income dynamics, child development supplement 1997: User guide. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. https://psidonline.isr.umich.edu/CDS/cdsi_userGD.pdf. Accessed 18 October 2018.
Institute for Social Research. (2017). Panel study of income dynamics, child development supplement 2014: User guide. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. https://psidonline.isr.umich.edu/CDS/CDS2014_UserGuide.pdf. Accessed 18 October 2018.
Janssen, I., & LeBlanc, A. G. (2010). Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7, 40. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-7-40.
Junco, R., & Cotten, S. R. (2012). No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education, 59(2), 505–514. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.12.023.
King, M. D., Jennings, J., & Fletcher, J. M. (2014). Medical adaptation to academic pressure: Schooling, stimulant use, and socioeconomic status. American Sociological Review, 79(6), 1039–1066.
Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Larouche, R., Garriguet, D., & Tremblay, M. S. (2016). Outdoor time, physical activity and sedentary time among young children: The 2012-2013 Canadian health measures survey. Canadian Journal of Public Health; Ottawa, 107(6), E500–E506. https://doi.org/10.17269/CJPH.107.5700.
Laughlin, L. (2013). Who’s minding the kids? Child care arrangements: Spring 2011 (No. P70–135). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. (1995). Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 80–94.
Little, R. J. A., & Rubin, D. B. (2014). Statistical analysis with missing data. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Moreno, M. A., Chassiakos, Y. R., & Cross, C. (2016). Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162592. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2592.
Paik, H. (2001). The history of children’s use of electronic media. In D. G. Singer & J. L. Singer (Eds.), Handbook of children and the media (pp. 7–28). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
Perez-Brena, N. J., Updegraff, K. A., & Umaña-Taylor, A. J. (2012). Father- and mother-adolescent decision-making in Mexican-origin families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(4), 460–473. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-011-9660-8.
Plowman, L., McPake, J., & Stephen, C. (2009). The Technologisation of childhood? Young children and Technology in the Home. Children & Society, 24(1), 63–74. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1099-0860.2008.00180.x.
Przybylski, A. K. (2019). Digital screen time and pediatric sleep: Evidence from a preregistered cohort study. The Journal of Pediatrics, 205, 218–223.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.09.054.
Radesky, J. S., & Christakis, D. (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162591. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2591.
Radesky, J. S., Kistin, C. J., Zuckerman, B., Nitzberg, K., Gross, J., Kaplan-Sanoff, M., et al. (2014). Patterns of mobile device use by caregivers and children during meals in fast food restaurants. Pediatrics, 133(4), e843–e849. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2013-3703.
Rideout, V. J. (2015). The common sense census: Media use by tweens and teens. Common Sense Media, San Francisco, CA.
Rideout, V. J. (2017). The common sense census: Media use by kids age zero to eight. Common Sense Media, San Francisco, CA.
Rideout, V. J., Vandewater, E. A., & Wartella, E. A. (2003). Zero to six: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Menlo Park: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ed482302. Accessed 12 April 2018.
Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Menlo Park: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED527859. Accessed 30 November 2017.
Robinson, J. P. (1985). The validity and reliability of diaries versus alternative time use measures. In F. T. Juster & F. P. Stafford (Eds.), Time, goods, and well-being (pp. 33–62). Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.
Schmidt, M. E., & Vandewater, E. A. (2008). Media and attention, cognition, and school achievement. The Future of Children, 18(1), 63–85. https://doi.org/10.1353/foc.0.0004.
Smetana, J. G., Campione-Barr, N., & Daddis, C. (2004). Longitudinal development of family decision making: Defining healthy behavioral autonomy for middle-class African American adolescents. Child Development, 75(5), 1418–1434. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00749.x.
Stafford, F., & Chiteji, N. (2012). Shaping health behavior across generations: Evidence from time use data in the panel study of income dynamics and its supplements. Annals of Economics and Statistics, 105, 185–208.
StataCorp. (2017). Stata statistical software: Release 15. College Station: StataCorp LP.
Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Sassa, Y., Hashizume, H., Sekiguchi, A., Fukushima, A., & Kawashima, R. (2013). Brain structures associated with executive functions during everyday events in a non-clinical sample. Brain Structure and Function, 218(4), 1017–1032. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-012-0444-z.
Vandewater, E. A., Shim, M., & Caplovitz, A. G. (2004). Linking obesity and activity level with children’s television and video game use. Journal of Adolescence, 27(1), 71–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2003.10.003.
Vandewater, E. A., Bickham, D. S., & Lee, J. H. (2006). Time well spent? Relating television use to children’s free-time activities. Pediatrics, 117(2), e181–e191. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2005-0812.
Vandewater, E. A., Rideout, V. J., Wartella, E. A., Huang, X., Lee, J. H., & Shim, M. (2007). Digital childhood: Electronic media and technology use among infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Pediatrics, 119(5), e1006–e1015. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-1804.
Vandewater, E. A., Park, S. E., Hébert, E. T., & Cummings, H. M. (2015). Time with friends and physical activity as mechanisms linking obesity and television viewing among youth. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(1), S6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-12-S1-S6.
Wartella, E. A., & Jennings, N. (2000). Children and computers: New technology, old concerns. The Future of Children, 10(2), 31–43. https://doi.org/10.2307/1602688.
Wartella, E. A., & Robb, M. (2008). Historical and recurring concerns about children’s use of the mass media. In The handbook of children, media, and development (pp. 7–26).
Williams, J. A., Zimmerman, F. J., & Bell, J. F. (2013). Norms and trends of sleep time among US children and adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(1), 55–60. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.423.
Wray-Lake, L., Crouter, A. C., & McHale, S. M. (2010). Developmental patterns in decision-making autonomy across middle childhood and adolescence: European American parents’ perspectives. Child Development, 81(2), 636–651. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01420.x.
Xu, H., Wen, L. M., Hardy, L. L., & Rissel, C. (2016). Associations of outdoor play and screen time with nocturnal sleep duration and pattern among young children. Acta Paediatrica, 105(3), 297–303. https://doi.org/10.1111/apa.13285.
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.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Early childhood
- Middle childhood
- Time diaries