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Technology use by small children on the rise

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A new national survey of technology use by children under age 6 indicates that an overwhelming 85 percent of parents allow their young children to use technology in the home.

More than three quarters of parents surveyed said they use technology along with their children on a daily basis for up to two hours, with television, tablets, smartphones and computers the most frequently used. Overall, 15 percent of parents said their young children do not have access to technology in the home.   

The survey also found that 86 percent of parents said they are satisfied with how their young children access and use technology, citing benefits including positive child development, literacy and perhaps most importantly, school readiness and school success. At the same time, however, parents expressed significant concerns about the downside of technology use among young children including too much screen time, inappropriate content, reduced time outdoors and less active play.

The attitudes, behaviors and concerns of the 1,000 American parents surveyed provides the most current snapshot of technology use today by young children born in a digital age where technology is deeply integrated into the fabric of daily life. The survey was conducted online for Erikson Institute and its Technology in Early Childhood Center by YouGov.

Parents identified other family members, pediatricians and early childhood teachers as trusted sources about technology and young children. However, only a small number of parents surveyed – 36 percent – reported that their pediatrician had talked with them about technology use. For these parents, this conversation was quite meaningful as they were more likely to choose pediatricians as their trusted source.

"It is clear that even the youngest children are using technology on a daily basis," said Geoffrey A. Nagle, Ph.D., president and CEO of Erikson Institute. "The key is to accept this and to support parents and other adults who work with young children so they have the best information available to instill healthy technology habits and support positive development during the early years."  

You can view the full Erikson Institute survey here.

Research on young children and technology, including this survey, informs the work of Erikson's Technology in Early Childhood Center, which strengthens the digital literacy of adults and their ability to intentionally select, use, integrate and evaluate technology for young children in the classroom and at home.

Early childhood is a time when adults can have great influence over the development of technology habits, which can set the stage for a child's future technology use, said Chip Donohue, Ph.D., director of Erikson's Technology in Early Childhood Center. "When parents and adult professionals use technology to interact with young children, it can create learning opportunities, encourage discovery and empower the child," Donohue said.  

Tips from the experts at Erikson's Technology in Early Childhood Center

  • Parents are the most influential media role models for children so we need to pay attention to our own media use and misuse.
  • Not all screens are created equal—it's time to rethink screen time. Shift your focus from how much they watch to the quality of the content and opportunity for interactions.
  • Relationships matter most in a child's early years. Explore technology with your young children. Research finds that joint exploration promotes learning. Find interactive content that appeals to your child's interests and let him or her control how to explore.
  • Healthy technology use is about balance. Look for parent-child experiences that require no technology at all and use technology to support the joy of learning—to engage, empower and inspire your child.
  • Manage the impact of technology on family time. It can include screen time but children also need family time without screens and digital devices. Plan to unplug. Ask, "What can we do together when we turn our devices off?" Encourage playtime, including outdoor time, where no technology is required.

Erikson Institute is an independent institution of higher education committed to ensuring that all children have equitable opportunities to realize their potential.

Survey Methodology: 
This survey was conducted online in the United States by YouGov for Erikson Institute between August 18-29, 2016. For this survey, 1,000 parents with children under age 6 were interviewed.  The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the full 2013 American Community Survey sample collected by the U. S. Census Bureau.

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