More than a third of infants are using smartphones, tablets, study says

More than one-third of parents surveyed said their infants had used smartphones or tablets before turning 1

Have you ever been befuddled by a feature of your iPhone, only to have your 6-year-old show you how it works? A new study helps explain how this happens.

Most children have been using smartphones and digital tablets practically since birth -- literally. Fully 36% of parents who answered a recent survey said their children had “touched or scrolled a screen” before they had celebrated their first birthday, and an additional 33% of parents said their kids had done so while they were 1 year old. Only 2% of the parents surveyed said they had waited until their kids were 4 to introduce them to the wonders of the touchscreen.

In case you were figuring that these kids must have been born in the heart of Silicon Valley, think again. The researchers said they conducted their survey of 370 families in a pediatric clinic that caters to “an urban, low income, minority community” in Philadelphia. In fact, 13% of the parents who took the survey had not finished high school. Still, 77% of them said they had a smartphone, 83% had a tablet and 59% had Internet access.

Many of the infants and toddlers may have been poking randomly at their digital screens, but at least some of them were doing something purposeful, according to the parents. Fifteen percent of the kids had used an app before they turned 1, and 24% had called someone, the researchers reported. The most common age to start using apps was 2, when 36% of the children tried them. Likewise, 36% of the kids started playing video games when they were 2.

If the kids enjoyed playing with the digital devices, the parents seemed to benefit too. Nearly two-thirds of the parents said they handed over their mobile media gadgets to calm their children, and 29% said they used them to get their children to sleep. The devices also served to entertain kids while their parents did chores around the house (according to 73% of the survey takers) and ran errands (60% of them said).

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children should avoid screens until they turn 2. “A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens,” according to the academy. However, only 30% of the parents surveyed said they had discussed screen time and other media use with their pediatricians.

The results appeared to surprise the researchers from Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center, who conducted the survey in October and November of 2014.

“We didn’t expect children are using the devices from the age of 6 months,” Dr. Hilda Kabali, a pediatrics resident who led the study, said in a statement. “Some of the children were using the screen for as long as 30 minutes.

The research was presented Saturday at the Pediatrics Academic Societies meeting in San Diego. 

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