Study: Kids Aren’t Addicted to Tech, Despite More Screen Time
As kids spend more time with screen-based devices, there is a common perception that technology is taking over their lives, to the detriment and exclusion of other activities. However, new Oxford University research has revealed that despite the intrusion of digital devices into everyday life, and overall increases in the amount of screen time, children have adapted; much like adults, they are able to multi-task and do all the things that they would do anyway.
The study also reveals key gender differences in how children use technology. Although boys and girls spend similar amounts of time using devices, boys spend significantly more time playing video games compared to girls, spending 50 mins per day, while girls spent 9. The bulk of girls’ time is spent engaging in other online activities such as study and socialising.
Conducted by Killian Mullan, a Senior Research Associate at Oxford’s Centre for Time Use Research in the Department of Sociology, the study combines data from two national UK Time Use Surveys 2000-01 and 2014-15, to study changes in screen-based activities and to build a detailed picture of the time children spend using technology.
The work represents a first of its kind assessment of how the time children aged 8-18 spend daily on screen-based activities (TV, videogames and computers) has changed since 2000, together with an analysis of how children are incorporating the use of devices such as smartphones and tablets into their daily activities.
The study reveals that children spent 10 minutes less time watching TV between 2000 and 2015. However their time playing videogames and using computers, (when this was the primary focus of their activity), increased by 40 minutes, giving an overall increase of 30 minutes in the time children spent on traditional screen-based activities.
The work considers the increased availability of portable devices (smart phones and tablets) and reinforces reports from other data sources, such as Ofcom, that in 2015 children spent on average 2hr 46 mins using a device (approximately 20 hours per week).
For the remaining time that children are using devices, (a total of 1hr 16 min), they report engaging in a wide range of different activities including when at school (14 mins), socialising (13 min), travelling (12 mins), studying (9 min), eating (6 min), and playing sports (3 min). This raises important questions about the extent to which mobile devices are altering the nature of children’s experiences. However, the overall amount of time spent on these activities did not change noticeably between 2000 and 2015, indicating that the amount of time that children use technology may be increasing, but is not reducing time spent on other activities.
Killian explains: “Our findings show that technology is being used with and in some cases perhaps to support other activities, like homework for instance, and not pushing them out. Just like we adults do, children spread their digital tech use throughout the day, while doing other things.”
When time spent using devices is added to the measure of total screen-based activities (TV, videogames, computer), the increase in screen time between 2000 and 2015 jumps substantially from 30 minutes to 1 hr 46 min. However, the study highlights how children’s increasing use of technology is spread throughout the day while they are engaging in many other activities.
Whether this ability to multi-task is effective, proving a distraction, or even affecting their mental health, is not clear and needs further investigation. However, what is clear is that technology is not consuming children’s time and attention, as is commonly perceived.
Killian added: “People think that children are addicted to technology and in front of these screens 24/7, to the exclusion of other activities – and we now know that is not the case. The bigger point is that, as for adults, children are incorporating technology into daily life. They are taking the tech with them and they are doing all the things that they would do anyway – but now with devices. On paper, the total time children spend using digital devices sounds huge. But, when you break it down the picture that emerges shows how children have embedded tech in their daily activities – just like we have.”
Of the importance of the behavioural gender differences observed, Killian observed more research is needed to understand how to leverage all the different ways boys and girls use technology in their daily lives, in order to ensure there is more gender balance in courses of study and careers in technology.
The same team is also studying how use of screen-based technology relationships and activities with family, which should be interesting given everything we know about how tech impacts adult relationships.