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What New Research on Young Kids’ Media Use Means for Teachers

Topics:   Media Balance

Learn critical insights into mobile device use, media habits at home, and the digital divide.

Erin Wilkey Oh | October 18, 2017

The newest wave of the Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight (also conducted in 2011 and 2013) shines a spotlight on the increasing presence that devices and media have in young kids’ lives. For educators, the survey data help us better understand what’s going on at home and can guide our thinking about the role teachers play in shaping students’ media use.

We dive in here to consider a few of the key findings and what they mean for teachers.

Mobile Access Is Nearly Universal

Perhaps it’s no surprise to learn that mobile device use has become nearly universal, with 98 percent of kids age 8 and under living in a home with some type of mobile device. In addition, the amount of time young kids spend on mobile devices has tripled since 2013 -- from 15 minutes a day to 48 minutes a day, a close second to the 58 minutes a day kids spend watching TV.

For educators, the rise of mobile media in homes presents us with an important role to play for kids and families. Consider the following tips:

●  Educate yourself on high-quality mobile tools that are great for learning. If you have mobile devices in the classroom, learn how to integrate apps in meaningful ways.
●  Share great app recommendations with parents to guide media use at home.
●  Introduce digital citizenship skills early. Help your young students establish safe, responsible, and balanced media habits.

Parents and Pediatricians Are Sometimes at Odds When It Comes to Media Behaviors

Contrary to recommendations from pediatricians, many kids use media shortly before bedtime, and many families leave the TV on in the background most of the time. In addition, only one in five parents say they know the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for their child’s media use.

First and foremost, these findings can help teachers better understand factors that might be affecting kids at school. As studies have shown, screen time before bed can interfere with sleep, and background TV can also have negative effects on kids. Given that educators have frequent and regular interactions with parents, we’re in a valuable position to share trustworthy research and resources on media use with families. Add these items to your parent communication plan:

●  Share the AAP recommendations and related resources (also in Spanish) with parents, then offer perspectives on what these flexible recommendations might mean for kids’ screen time rules at home.
●  Introduce strategies for establishing media balance both in the classroom and at home.
●  Challenge your students and their families to join Will Ferrell in trying a device-free dinner.

The Digital Divide Is Shrinking, but Still Exists

Today there’s a 22 percentage-point gap in high-speed internet access at home between kids in lower- and higher-income households (74 percent versus 96 percent for high-speed internet), which is down from a 50 percentage-point gap in 2011.

While this is a trend in the right direction, we can’t overlook the fact that a gap still exists. And with more schools moving to online learning management systems and paperless classrooms, our low-income students who don’t have reliable internet access at home are potentially getting left behind. To support equity in our schools and classrooms, consider the following actions:

●  Take inventory of how your classroom might be putting students without adequate home internet access at a disadvantage. For example, rethink homework that requires high-speed internet access (some “flipped lessons”), and find out parents’ preferred method of communication (email, text, phone call).
●  Become an advocate for digital equity in your school and community by learning more about programs that subsidize high-speed internet for low-income families. Think outside the box (check out Omaha’s Mobile Learning Unit), and find ways your school can serve as a technology resource for the community.

For more key findings plus essays on the implications of the data from thought leaders in children’s health, education, and policy, download the full report.