Screen time soars for US children amid global pandemic

by Sara Fischer, Axios

With almost all U.S. states closing schools until at least the end of the month, most children ages 6–12 say they are spending at least 50% more time in front of screens daily, according to new data from SuperAwesome, a kids technology company.

Why it matters: Parents were already struggling to limit screen time for kids when they were in school, let alone trying to pull them away from their devices while they are forced to stay home away from their friends, peers and regular activities.

Driving the news: In the U.S., a majority of 6–12 year-olds say they use screen devices either a lot more (at least 50% more), twice as much, or for what feels like “most of the day” during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • “Overall, kids are effectively going to be spending 2.5–3x more hours of day in front of a digital screen than they historically would have,” says Dylan Collins, CEO of SuperAwesome.
  • “What we were seeing is that U.K. kids had a slightly higher tendency to do more family-based stuff, as in physical family activity, like board games and table top games, than U.S. kids who spend more time with screens,” says Collins.

Details: Traffic to kids apps and digital services has increased by nearly 70% in the U.S., per the report.

  • “You’re seeing a slight increase in desktop, largely because of school demands,” says Collins. “A lot of families in a normal routine would have a single tablet shared between siblings, but because homeschooling needs to have consistent access to devices across multiple kids, you’re seeing desktop spike.”
  • Tablet traffic has nearly tripled, while phone traffic has nearly doubled. Assuming some children don’t yet own their own devices, especially phones, the data is likely a reflection of children using their parents’ devices to access kids sites.
  • Connected TV device usage is much higher in the U.S. than in the U.K. Connected TV usage seems to have leveled off over the past week or so, as more schools have begun to formally implement remote work and are back from spring break.
  • Overall, traffic to kids sites and apps in the U.S. is much higher than in the U.K., per the report.

Gender split data shows that girls over the past few weeks have typically used chat apps and TikTok more than boys and have read more. Boys on the other hand, have weighted much more heavily towards gaming.

  • Digital engagement between genders is also increasing, as children try to make up for the lack of in-person contact at school.

Be smart: It’s easy for parents to blame phones and tablets for an increase in digital engagement, but most kids say they are spending more time watching content on the TV screen than anything else.

  • Of the activities that kids say they are spending more time doing, streaming video tops the list across all ages of kids 6–12+, followed by watching regular TV, then playing games.
  • When it comes to streaming, the top brands that kids say they are engaging with are Netflix, followed by Amazon, YouTube, Apple and Disney+.
  • The data compliments figures out last week from Digiday that show that the total day viewing of many of the largest children’s TV networks, like The Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, have experienced massive upswings.

Yes, but: Levels of increased screen time can actually be a reflection of healthy engagement too, says Collins.

  • “The phenomenon of physical play being translated into a digital forum is something that we’re just beginning to see, and it’s hard to know exactly how that plays out in then next few months.”
  • “You see it coming out of the parents’ data that kids are starting to feel lonely and are missing friends. The next big question is, how do parents translate regular play into digital activity?”

The bottom line: For many parents who are forced to simultaneously balance child supervision and working at home, screen time limits have effectively been out of the picture.

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