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Should Toddlers Use Mobile Devices?

By Edited Aug 24, 2016 1 2

The rise of mobile continues at a phenomenal growth rate. In 2013, statistics suggested 91 percent of people on Earth had a mobile phone, 56 percent of whom used a smartphone. Fast-forward a couple of years and mobile use continued to grow significantly. According to Cisco, “global mobile devices and connections grew to 7.9 billion, up from 7.3 billion in 2014.” It is projected this will surge to 11.6 billion by 2020. 1

Along those lines, one segment of the population that is also steadily moving towards mobile is the toddler set.

baby with laptop
Credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/baby-boy-child-childhood-computer-84626/

Electronics have long progressed beyond the laptop. Mobile devices have gotten much smaller and, as a result, many kids can hold them in their hands, making it a convenient item to play with.

2013 Study of Children and Mobile Use

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that educates families about technology and media, reported in a 2013 study that almost 40 percent of children under the age of two had used a mobile device. 2 The study was conducted (where else?) online, and 1,463 parents with kids aged eight and under were surveyed. The study is titled, "Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America 2013."

An infographic published by the organization highlights toddlers and babies used mobile devices approximately 15 minutes per day on average. Common Sense Media stated, at the time, it first started tracking toddler and baby use of mobile two years prior. The amount of time had tripled since 2011, when it was five minutes.  Also that year, 10 percent of kids under the age of two had used a mobile device, but at the time of the 2013 survey, this statistic had jumped to 38 percent. According to the report, if all children are included, the number of kids who have used a mobile device hikes up to 72 percent.

Child using mobile gadget
Credit: LoveToTakePhotos via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/children-learning-video-games-888892/

Most kids today know how to use a mobile device. From toys to their parents' mobile phones, as time passes, kids seem to almost instinctively operate one.

At the time of the 2013 survey, CNET suggested this change may "partly reflect" the way mobile devices have become increasingly integral to parents. 4 Nowadays, instead of handing them keys to keep them occupied, they may be handing over a phone or other mobile gadget to serve as entertainment.

How Children's Use of Mobile is Growing

Fast-forward to now and mobile has become an integral part of everyday life, including the daily routines of children.  A study published in 2015 found just over three-fourths of kids aged two regularly use their own mobile devices; many under the age of three use the devices on their own without assistance (the report notes this particular study was a very limited one conducted in Philadelphia). Additionally, by age four, most kids own their own mobile gadget.  

The consumer market has steadily been aiming different technology products at kids over the past several years. If you take a look, search engines will bring up a variety of digital gadgets designed specifically for kids. Many of which are Internet capable.

Serious Questions Raised

While mobile is clearly going to be a part of society for the long haul, is this necessarily a good thing for kids? Consider the fact the American Academy of Pediatrics warns infants and children under age 2 should not be exposed to "screens" and suggests a "Media Diet." 5

Child in front of TV
Credit: mojzagrebinfo via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/children-tv-child-television-home-403582/

Medical experts have long cited the negative effects of too much television. In today's world "screens" no longer just apply to TV.

Psych Central lists a few ways mobile devices could affect childhood psychology, learning or physical well-being. 6

  • Takes kids away from learning that takes place through observation of the world around them
  • Decreases interaction with other people
  • Concerns about how touch-screen interaction affects brain development
  • Potential radiation exposure from mobile (this has been highly debatable for years with no absolute proof; however a study published in 2016 showed increased cancer in rats with overexposure which has sparked new debate). 7
  • Possible interruption with brain function

The article acknowledges, "there is no concrete proof that mobile technology is linked to adverse outcomes. Smartphones and technology do offer benefits to our children." 6

Concrete proof or not, it is good food for thought. Is technology negatively impacting our children?

Child playing in snow
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

In today's mobile age are we letting children have too much time in front of screens and not enough time exploring the world around them? In recent years experts have been studying the potential long-term impact of ways too much mobile might affect their emotional and physical growth.

Too Much Reliance on Mobile?

While experts say children's exposure to television and other devices should be limited, it is likely kids are going to be gravitated to digital devices easily held and manipulated because it is probably not only intriguing, but because they see their parents do it.

For instance, Matt Berry, director, Demand Generation and Client Experience for IBM MobileFirst says a whopping 91 percent of users keep their mobile devices within "arm's reach" all of the time. 100 percent. 8 Traditionally, kids will mimic their parents in what they do.

Yet, technology is a very important part of today's life and it's going to continue to play a central role.

Either way, at this point, there's really no going back is there?

A Digital Tomorrow

As the old Bob Dylan song goes, "for the times, they are a-changin'." And, if recent statistics are any indicator, it is going at a fast pace these days. With the race for progressive tech moving faster than ever, the question is, is it for the better or worse? While the negatives are there, there are definitely positives too for children understanding how to use mobile. Not to mention kids will need to have technology skills as they grow, it's a part of the world they'll live in.

When Bob Dylan originally composed this song, its meaning was very different. However, in many ways that phrase applies today. Once the change happens, is there any going back?

Could one day soon, old-fashioned toys be gone? Could one day the time arrive where they only exist in nostalgia or as antiques?

Time will tell. 

In the meantime, it is probably safe to say the race for increased ways for people to be connected will continue to progress at a fairly rapid pace. The kids of today already can't comprehend a world without tech. What will be the perception of the next generation be? And how will it affect them? Will it be for the better or worse? Should kids be using mobile devices routinely as toddlers?

What do you think?



Jul 23, 2016 11:43pm
A good article, Leigh, with lots of food for thought. Personally, I don't think that children under 4 should be using any screens at all. They should be playing and exploring the world and learning how to interact with other people. Sitting in front of a screen instead of running around outside can also contribute to childhood obesity.
Jul 30, 2016 3:57am
Thank you Lesley! I can't say I'm not guilty of letting my (once) toddlers watch some TV, but today it seems to be a whole different ballgame with screens. It amazes me how even little ones who don't have their own devices instinctively know how to use one if someone hands them one.
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  1. "Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2015–2020 White Paper." Cisco. 01/02/2016. 17/06/2016 <Web >
  2. "Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America 2013." Common Sense Media. 28/10/2013. 17/06/2016 <Web >
  3. "Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children." Pediatrics . 17/06/2016 <Web >
  4. "Study: 38 percent of kids under 2 have used a mobile device." CNET. 28/10/2013. 17/06/2016 <Web >
  5. "Media and Children." American Academy of Pediatrics. 17/06/2016 <Web >
  6. "How Do Smartphones Affect Childhood Psychology?." Psych Central. 17/06/2016 <Web >
  7. "A Possible Cellphone Link to Cancer? A Rat Study Launches New Debate." NBC News. 27/05/2016. 17/06/2016 <Web >
  8. "Matt Berry talks about the growth of mobile technology." IBM. 17/06/2016 <Web >

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