Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Parenting Children in the Age of Screens

1. Children’s engagement with digital devices, screen time

The use of the internet and the adoption of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets is widespread, and digital technologies play a significant role in the everyday lives of American families. This is also true for children, who may begin interacting with digital devices at young ages.

Chart shows children’s engagement with certain types of digital devices varies widely by age

In March, Pew Research Center asked parents a series of questions about their children under the age of 12 and how they engage with digital technologies.

The most common device parents say their young child engages with is a television, with 88% of parents saying their child ever uses or interacts with a TV. Smaller – yet still large – shares of parents say their child ever uses or interacts with a tablet computer (67%) or a smartphone (60%). Some 44% of parents of young children say their child ever uses or interacts with a desktop or laptop computer or a gaming device.

There are substantial age differences in the types of devices parents report their child engaging with. For example, 73% of parents with a child age 9 to 11 say their child uses a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 54% of those whose child is age 5 to 8 and just 16% of those with a child younger than 5. The use of gaming devices follows a similar pattern: 68% of parents with a child age 9 to 11 say their child uses this device, compared with 58% of those with a child age 5 to 8, one-quarter of those whose child is age 3 to 4 and 9% of those with a child age 2 or younger. Similarly, 80% of parents with a child age 5 to 11 say their child uses or interacts with a tablet computer, compared with 64% of parents with a child age 3 to 4 who do this and 35% with a child or a child age 2 or younger.

These differences by the child’s age are less pronounced when other devices are considered. For instance, parents with a child age 9 to 11 are more likely to say their child engages with a smartphone (67%), compared with parents with a child age 5 to 8 (59%) or age 2 or younger (49%). Parents with a child age 3 to 4 fall in the middle – 62% say their child uses or interacts with a smartphone.

Parents of the youngest children are less likely to say their child engages with a television, but majorities of all age groups still report doing so – 74% of parents with a child age 2 or younger say their child uses or interacts with a television, compared with 90% or more of parents with a child in somewhat older age groups.

More than one-third of parents with a child under 12 say their child began interacting with a smartphone before the age of 5

Chart shows many parents say their smartphone-using child began engaging with the phone before age 5

Among the 60% of parents who say their child younger than 12 ever uses or interacts with a smartphone, six-in-ten say their child began engaging with a smartphone before the age of 5, including roughly one-third (31%) who say their child began this before age 2 and 29% who say it started between ages 3 and 4. Some 26% of parents whose child uses a smartphone say the smartphone engagement began between the ages 5 and 8. This share falls to just 14% for parents with a child age 9 to 11.5

Nearly one-in-five parents of a child younger than 12 say their child has their own smartphone

Chart shows 51% of parents whose young child has their own smartphone say this child got the device between the ages of 9 and 11

Aside from just using and engaging with a smartphone, some children younger than 12 years old have their own device. Nearly one-in-five parents of a child 11 or younger (17%) say that their child has their own smartphone.

There are differences in child smartphone ownership by parents’ education level and the age of the child. Parents with a high school education or less are twice as likely as parents who are college graduates to say their child has their own smartphone (21% vs. 11%). Parents with some college education fall in the middle, with 19% saying their child under the age of 12 has their own smartphone.

Parents with somewhat older children are also more likely to say their child has their own device. For example, 37% of parents of a child age 9 to 11 say their child has their own smartphone, compared with 13% of those with a child 5 to 8, 5% of those with a child 3 to 4 and 3% of those with a child who is 2 or younger.

Among the share of parents who say their child under age 12 has their own smartphone (17%), roughly half (51%) say this child was between the ages of 9 and 11 when they got their own device, and about one-third of parents (35%) say this happened between ages 5 and 8. Much smaller shares of these parents say the same for younger ages.

Chart shows being able to communicate easily, getting in touch with their child are major reasons most parents say child has their own smartphone

Majorities of parents of children who have their own smartphones and are under the age of 12 say making it easy for their child to contact them (78%) and being able to easily get in touch with their child (73%) are major reasons their child has their own smartphone.

Far fewer parents with a child in this age range say that major reasons their child has their own smartphone are to have something to keep them entertained (25%) or because their friends or classmates have a phone (6%). About one-in-ten parents of a child ages 5 to 11 (9%) say that a major reason this child has their own smartphone is to do their homework.

More than a third of parents say their child under the age of 12 uses or interacts with a voice-activated assistant

Chart shows 36% of parents say their child ever interacts with a voice-activated assistant

In addition to details about smartphone engagement and ownership, parents of children under 12 were also asked some questions about their child’s engagement with voice-activated assistants.

Roughly one-third of parents of a child age 11 or younger (36%) say their child ever uses or interacts with a voice-activated assistant such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon Alexa. There are differences in a child’s interaction with this type of device by age of the child, race or ethnicity, parent’s level of educational attainment and community type.

Parents who have an older child, between the ages of 5 and 11, are more likely than parents with a child age 3 to 4 or age 2 or younger to say their child uses or interacts with a voice-activated assistant.

Among parents with a child under age 12, those with lower levels of formal education are less likely to say their child engages with a voice-activated assistant – 26% of parents with a high school education or less say their child does this, compared with 38% of parents who have some college education and 42% of college graduates.

White parents are more likely than Hispanic parents to say their child ever interacts with or uses a voice-activated assistant. Those living in suburban locations are also more likely than those living in rural communities to say their child does this.

Chart shows majority of parents say their child uses a voice assistant to play music; fewer use these devices to hear jokes, play games

Among the 36% of parents of a child under the age of 12 who say their child ever uses or interacts with a voice-activated assistant, majorities say their child uses this device to play music (82%) or get information (66%). Smaller shares of these parents say their child uses a voice-activated assistant to hear jokes (47%) or play games (30%).

The use of a voice-activated assistant varies substantially by the age of the child for all but one of these activities – with older children being more likely to use these functions. Fully 78% of parents with a child age 5 to 11 say their child uses a voice-activated assistant to get information, compared with 29% of parents with a child age 4 or younger who say the same.

When it comes to using the voice-activated assistant to hear jokes, more than half of parents (54%) with a 5- to 11-year-old child say their child uses a voice-activated assistant to do this, compared with roughly one-quarter of parents (24%) with a younger child, 4 or younger, who say the same. And more than twice as many parents with a child age 5 to 11 say their child uses a voice-activated assistant to play games compared with parents with a child age 4 or younger (34% vs. 16%). There is no difference by age of child when it comes to parents saying their child uses a voice-activated assistant to play music.

Chart shows about four-in-ten parents say they are at least somewhat concerned about data being collected about their child by voice-activated assistants

Some parents of a child under 12 are concerned about the data collected by these voice-activated assistants. Among parents of children under age 12 who say their child ever uses or interacts with a voice-activated assistant, about four-in-ten (39%) say they are at least somewhat concerned about the data these assistants collect about their child, including 11% who say they are very concerned. But a majority of parents say they are not too (47%) or not at all (14%) concerned about the data voice-activated assistants collect about their child.

A portion of parents say their child younger than 12 uses social media; use varies by age of child, parents’ level of education

Relatively few parents of a child age 11 or younger say that, as far as they know, their child uses social media, though shares are higher for parents of children ages 9 to 11. Despite most social media sites having age guidelines in place, which usually restrict children younger than 13 from joining, some 13% of these parents say their child uses TikTok and 10% say their child uses Snapchat. Just 5% say their child uses Instagram, and even fewer (3%) say their child uses Facebook. Some 7% of parents say their child uses some other social media site. There are differences in child social media use by age of the child and parents’ level of educational attainment.

Parents with a child age 9 to 11 are more likely than parents with a child in younger age groups to say their child uses any of the social media platforms asked about in the survey. For example, three-in-ten parents of a child age 9 to 11 say their child uses TikTok, compared with 11% of parents of a child between the ages of 5 and 8 and 3% of parents of children ages 4 and younger.

Chart shows parents of an older child are more likely to say child uses social media sites

Parental education level is also a factor in their child’s use of certain social media sites. For example, parents of a child age 11 or younger with a high school education or less are more likely than those with a postgraduate degree to say their child uses TikTok (19% vs. 6%). This trend also holds for a child’s use of Snapchat and Facebook.

Parents are more likely to say their child under age 12 uses a social media site if this child has their own smartphone. For instance, 42% of parents who say their child has their own smartphone also say their child uses TikTok, and 31% say their child uses Snapchat. These shares fall to 10% or less across all platforms for parents who say their child does not have their own smartphone.

CORRECTION (Aug. 5, 2020): An earlier version of this report included a chart with a headline that read “Roughly half of parents say their child got their own smartphone between the ages of 9 and 11.” This headline has been edited for accuracy to explain that this was only among those whose child had their own smartphone. The chart, now titled “51% of parents whose young child has their own smartphone say this child got the device between the ages of 9 and 11,” was also edited so that all figures displayed in the bar chart are scaled correctly.

  1. When all parents with a child under the age of 12 are considered, 35% say their child began engaging with a smartphone before the age of 5, 15% say this happened between the ages of 5 and 8, and 8% say their child began engaging with this device between the ages of 9 and 11.

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