Even young children are tech savvy, some using mobile devices before age 1

The use of tablets and smartphones among young children has simply become child’s play, with kids able to skillfully tap and swipe before they can walk or talk.

A study, appearing Monday in Pediatrics, finds early adoption and "almost universal exposure" and use of mobile devices among young children. It also suggests signs the digital divide separating low- and middle-income access to technology may be disappearing.

Nearly all of the children ages 6 months to 4 years surveyed in a low-income minority community in Philadelphia had used a mobile device, researchers found, with 97% of parents saying their kids had used a mobile device -- many before their first birthday.

The study involved a 20-question survey of parents of 350 children in an urban, low-income, minority community. The study affirmed earlier findings that TV ownership is nearly ubiquitous at 97%. Smartphone ownership was also high with 77% of parents saying they had a smartphone.

The study found that most of the 3- and 4-year-olds could navigate the devices without help.

In addition, the results suggest that, where once there had been a vast digital divide with minorities lagging in tech usage, the gap appears to be closing. In this predominantly black community, 75% of the kids had their own mobile device by age 4, half had their own TVs, the study found.

The fact that the kids were so conversant with the devices suggested they got their hands on them early, often and independently, the study found. These devices have been displacing television as major sources of media consumption, whether for watching shows or using apps.

Most of the parents surveyed used the device, often a tablet, as a bit of a digital pacifier to keep kids calm while they were doing chores or out in public.

Other findings, according to the parents surveyed:

• 20% of 1-year-olds own a tablet.

• 28% of 2-year-olds could navigate a mobile device without assistance.

• 28% of parents said they use a mobile device to put their kids to sleep.

Sure, more kids are natively conversant with tablets and other mobile devices. But what it all means remains a bit of a mystery. There are little data on how children’s independent activity on mobile devices affects their development.

This comes as the American Academy of Pediatrics is considering a bit of catch-up with the times.

Previously promoting a near total black-out approach to screen time for children under 2, AAP is now creating an updated -- and more realistic -- set of screen-time guidelines for parents. The current recommendation is that parents monitor and limit their children's screen time.

A formally updated set of AAP guidelines will come out in 2016. 

Going through the growing pains of parenthood? Join me on the journey: @mmaltaisla

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