ELF2.0 Bibliography: Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013

As part of the ELF2.0: Young Children, New Media & Libraries Bibliography project, I’m going to be doing a LOT of reading & re-reading this summer. I’m going to try to post some of the questions, comments and concerns that come out of this project as I pull together some of the core resources that we refer to here at LittleeLit to guide our promising practices and pilots.

I’m starting with Common Sense Media’s Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013, which is a follow-up report from the first Zero to Eight which was undertaken in 2011. These are the questions the study attempted to answer:

  1. How much time do children spend with television, computers, video games, and mobile media devices today?
  2. How many children have access to new mobile media platforms such as smartphones, iPads, and other tablet devices? What’s the difference in use of these devices compared to two years ago?
  3. What types of activities and content do children engage in online, on smartphones, and on iPads and other tablet devices?
  4. Which platforms are most widely used for reaching children with educational content, and how does that vary by socioeconomic status?
  5. How early in life are children starting to use media? Which media are babies and toddlers using and for how long?
  6. Have the digital divide and the “app gap” begun to close, and if so, by how much?

Key Findings

Children’s access to mobile media devices is dramatically higher than it was two years ago. Among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, from 8% of all families in 2011 to 40% in 2013. The percent of children with access to some type of “smart” mobile device at home (e.g., smartphone, tablet) has jumped from half (52%) to three-quarters (75%) of all children in just two years.

Almost twice as many children have used mobile media compared to two years ago, and the average amount of time children spend using mobile devices has tripled.

Seventy-two percent of children age 8 and under have used a mobile device for some type of media activity such as playing games, watching videos, or using apps, up from 38% in 2011. In fact, today, 38% of children under 2 have used a mobile device for media (compared to 10% two years ago). The percent of children who use mobile devices on a daily basis – at least once a day or more – has more than doubled, from 8% to 17%. The amount of time spent using these devices in a typical day has tripled, from an average of :05 a day among all children in 2011 up to :15 a day in 2013. [Throughout the report, times are presented in hours:minutes format. For example, “1:46” indicates one hour and 46 minutes.] The difference in the average time spent with mobile devices is due to two factors: expanded access, and the fact that those who use them do so for longer periods of time. Among those who use a mobile device in a typical day, the average went from :43 in 2011 to 1:07 in 2013.

Time spent with “traditional” screen media such as television, DVDs, video games, and computers is down substantially, by more than half an hour a day (:31).

Overall, children age 8 and under spend :12 less per day watching TV, :09 less watching DVDs, :06 less using a computer, and :04 less playing video games than they did just two years ago. On the other hand, time spent consuming media on mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads increased by :10 a day (from :05 in 2011 to :15 in 2013) but not enough to offset the decrease in other screen media. With the increase in mobile media use and the decrease in other screen media use, total screen time among 0- to 8-year-olds is down an average of :21 a day to just less than two hours a day (1:55, compared to 2:16 in 2011).

Television still dominates children’s media time, but new ways of watching now make up a large portion of viewing.

Despite the dramatic changes of the past two years, television still reigns supreme in children’s media lives. It is the medium children use most frequently, by far: nearly six out of 10 children (58%) watch TV at least once a day, compared to 17% who use mobile devices on an everyday basis, 14% who are daily computer users, and 6% who play video games every day. Also, of the roughly two hours (1:55) average screen media use each day, half (50%) is spent watching television on a TV set (:57). This compares to 19% spent watching DVDs, 13% using mobile devices, 10% using computers, and 9% using video game players. However, the nature of TV viewing is changing, with time-shifting of programs becoming quite common. Of the :57 a day spent watching TV on a television set, almost a third (:18 or 32%) is spent watching programming that was recorded earlier on a DVR (:10), downloaded or streamed (:06), or accessed on demand (:02).

Access to mobile media devices and applications among poor and minority children is much higher than it was two years ago, but a large gap between rich and poor still persists. Two years ago, our study identified both an ongoing digital divide in home Internet access as well as a new “app gap,” a disparity in access to mobile devices and applications. With regard to the traditional divide, access to high-speed Internet among lower-income families has essentially stalled over the past two years (it was 42% in 2011 and is 46% today, a non-significant difference), and the gap between rich and poor endures (86% of higher-income families have high-speed access).

On the other hand, the gaps in mobile ownership, although still substantial, are closing. For example, access to smartphones has gone from 27% to 51% among lower-income families over the past two years, while tablet ownership has gone from 2% to 20% among the same group. Two years ago, 22% of lower-income children had ever used a mobile device; today, 65% have done so. Despite this increase in ownership, the gaps remain large. For example, although 20% of lower-income children now have a tablet device at home, 63% of higher-income children do; and while 35% of lower-income parents have downloaded educational apps for their child, 75% of higher-income parents have done so.

Television continues to be the most widely-used platform for children’s educational content.

This survey indicates that many young children are using educational media including content delivered on new mobile devices. But television is still the platform with the greatest reach (by far), especially among children in lower-income families. Among all 0- to 8-year-olds, 61% often or sometimes watch educational TV shows, compared to 38% who use educational content on mobile devices as frequently and 34% who use educational games or software on computers at that rate. Among 5-to 8-year-old children, use of interactive media for educational content is higher than among younger children, but TV is still the most popular platform even for this age group (59% often or sometimes watch educational TV, 48% often or sometimes use educational computer games or software, and 44% often/sometimes use educational games or apps on mobile devices).Educational content for mobile devices is much more likely to reach higher- than lower-income children. Half (54%) of higher-income children often or sometimes use educational content on mobile devices like smartphones and iPads, but only 28% of lower-income children do. Similarly, 44% of children in the higher-income group use educational games or software on a computer compared to 25% of lower-income children. By contrast, educational television is equally likely to reach lower- as higher-income children: 63% of lower-income children often or sometimes watch educational TV compared to 55% of higher-income youth (a non-significant difference). Much of the gap in use of educational content on computers and mobile platforms is due to lack of access to these technologies among lower-income families. Among children whose families own a computer, the gap in use of educational content disappears. Among children whose families own a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, the gap in use for educational purposes diminishes to 14 percentage points (59% of higher-income children whose families own a mobile device often or sometimes use educational content on it compared to 45% of lower- and middle-income children whose families own such a device).

Key Themes & Terms

Digital Divide
Interactive Media
Passive Media
Under 2s
Video Games


  • This report is aptly named “Zero to Eight” because it surveys that whole span of ages. Charts & data are represented for different age groups within that span.
  • What is “educational content”?

Posted on May 12, 2014, in Literacy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Many thanks, Cen, for this fascinating and thorough summary! I will be more than happy to share far and wide. Looking forward to more finds from your summer reading!

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