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Parents often incorrectly estimate their child’s media use

Media guidelines recommend a certain amount of activity for children, but parents may not have an accurate understanding of how much time their child is spending on mobile devices. A recent investigation provides a look into how young children are using media and for how long.

Even in the best of times, young children often are on mobile devices, and not all content they can consume is created equal. A new investigation in Pediatrics examines how children are using the smartphones and tablets given to them.1

The investigators enrolled 346 English-speaking parents or guardians of children aged 3 to 5 years. They interacted with parents via email, online surveys, and mobile device sampling. In Android devices they used Chronicle, a passive-sensing application, and screenshots of the battery feature were used in iOS devices.

Among the participants, there were 126 Android users, comprised of 35 tablets and 91 smartphones, and 220 iOS users, comprised of 143 tablets and 77 smartphones. Thirty-five percent of the children had their own tablet or smartphone. YouTube, YouTube Kids, an internet browser, quick search or Siri, and streaming video services were the most commonly used applications by children. The average daily use among the children who had their own device was 115.3 minutes per day, which was similar between iOS and Android devices. Most of the parents were likely to overestimate (34.8%) or underestimate (35.7%) their child’s mobile device use.

The researchers concluded that parental reports on device usage had low accuracy. The mobile device sampling methods used in their study offer an unobtrusive way to find an objective measure of mobile device use, which could aid in future research about media use by children.


1.    Radesky JS, Weeks HM, Ball R, et al. Young Children’s Use of Smartphones and Tablets. Pediatrics. 2020;145(6):e20193518. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-3518