Parents Heedlessly Let Kids Play With Smart Phones


A new study by Common Sense Media finds that "children under 8 are spending more time than ever in front of screens," as The New York Times puts it. This "despite the American Academy of Pediatrics' longstanding recommendations to the contrary." Why is the AAP, which recommends feeding speed to inattentive and impulsive youngsters, so down on letting them watch TV, play video games, or monkey around with child-friendly mobile phone apps? That's not clear from the article, although the Times does note "more than a decade of warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics that screen time offers no benefits for children under 2."

No benefits? The Times story unintentionally (and disapprovingly) provides evidence to the contrary: The kids enjoy their "screen time," and their parents can get stuff done. Seems like a win-win situation to me. The AAP and the Times may find this practice distasteful, but it is hardly tantamount to child abuse, even if it does absolutely nothing to develop cognitive skills or hand-eye coordination. If playing with Mom's iPhone caused cancer or brain damage, it would be a legitimate concern for pediatricians. But if the best they can do is falsely claim "no benefits," they should stick to medical matters and keep their moral/aesthetic views about electronic entertainment to themselves. Yet study author Vicky Rideout cannot stop shaking her head over parents who refuse to heed the AAP, which after all knows more about raising their children than they do:

I get the impression that a lot of parents do not take the recommendation that seriously. Part of it may be wishful thinking. Parents like their media, and it's really tough to resist the lure of putting your kid in front of something that purports to be educational and will keep them occupied.

What's worse than all this newfangled screen time that is messing up little kids in some unspecified way? The fact that poor kids don't get to enjoy it:

The report…documents for the first time an emerging "app gap" in which affluent children are likely to use mobile educational games while those in low-income families are the most likely to have televisions in their bedrooms….

Almost half the families with incomes above $75,000 had downloaded apps specifically for their young children, compared with one in eight of the families earning less than $30,000. More than a third of those low-income parents said they did not know what an "app"—short for application—was.

"The app gap is a big deal and a harbinger of the future," said James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media.