They're crawling to the TV set and toddling to the laptop. A new study of kids' media use finds that even the preschool set is logging on.
For its 2011 LMX Family study, Ipsos OTX MediaCT surveyed 2,080 American parents and their kids aged six to 12, as well as 715 parents of preschoolers aged 0 to five about the children's attitudes to media and their usage.
They found that most children are media consumers by the time they're a year old. And, by the time they've barely stopped toddling, they're interacting with video on their own.
More than half of the parents of preschoolers said their kids would be allowed to play games on mobile phones or consoles, watch online video and listen to music on multiple devices when they were five years old. By age six, they'll be allowed to go online on their own.
Traditionalists will be pleased to see that kids aged five and younger enjoyed playing with toys and playing outside as much as they did watching TV or video. For six- to 12-year-olds, more than one quarter of the time they were awake was screen time. Moreover, their media time rose substantially in the past year, from 4.9 hours to 5.3 hours each day, thanks mostly to video games.
Fran Walfish, a family and child therapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says this reflects what she sees in her waiting room and hears in her office.
"Younger and younger children, even under six, are coming in and referring by name to characters in these video games as though they are real people," Walfish says.
Watching live TV remained the primary media activity, however - just like when you were a kid. But they're not only watching TV. Like their older siblings and, probably, you yourself, they are multitasking: emailing, playing games, surfing the web. A full 30 percent of them are browsing social networks.
By three to five years old, kids lock onto video games as a favorite activity, although the three- to five-year-olds still preferred playing outside (15 percent playing games online versus 22 percent out in the fresh air and sunshine).
Both responding to and fueling this trend, last month, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a $20 million round of investments in companies developing online classes for kids, including game-based educational tools and social networks designed to support learning.
Among families with children six to 12 years old, the family drives technology purchases, according to the study. In this segment, 35 percent planned to buy a tablet, with 27 percent of them aiming for an iPad. Ownership of landline phones, desktop computers and VCRs declined, while ownership of newer tech, including netbooks, laptops, and HD-DVD or Blu-ray players was on the rise.
By age 11, more than half of kids have their own mobile phones; parents like feeling they can always get in touch with their children. They're not above reading the kids' text messages, either. In fact, 81 percent of girls and 72 percent of boys have their texts snooped by Mom or Dad.
Today's kids range far and wide on the Internet, with 25 percent of kids over six visiting social networking sites, despite the requirements of most that visitors be at least 18. At least, they've friended 79 percent of their parents.
When it comes to consuming media as a family, watching TV is still the prime activity. Maybe that's why 70 percent of parents will let their six- to twelve-year-olds watch a PG-13 movie with them, although 26 percent let Junior watch them on his own.
They're just as lenient when it comes to video games. By the time a boy is nine to 12, 82 percent of parents will play a game rated Teen with him, and 51 percent will let him play it on his own. Parents are a bit more protective of girls. With genders combined, 67 percent of parents play Teen games with their kids and 33 percent let them have the controller on their own.
Walfish says this study is good news for advertisers, because increased media consumption will make kids more responsive to advertising.
She says, "They come in my office, and they're begging for things they've seen in commercials. For the advertisers, it's a win. For the parents, it's very challenging."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
March 19, 2014