Today's toddlers are digital media consumers: should we be surprised?

New compilation of studies concludes many children under six years of age are frequent Internet users; turn into multitaskers as the reach school age. Welcome to the 21st century.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

The Internet is now a ubiquitous part of peoples' work and personal lives, so it's not surprising that the very young -- the very, very young -- are also regular consumers. A new report by Sesame Workshop and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center distills data emerging from studies undertaken by Sesame Workshop, independent scholars, foundations, and market researchers on the media habits of young children, and observes that about 25% of members of the under-six set use the Internet, and 80% of this group do so at least once a week:

"More children use the Internet regularly and for longer periods of time than ever before. Most children who go online do so a few times a week, and unsurprisingly, usage increases with age. Among very young children (0 to 5) who use the Internet, about 80% do so at least once a week. At age 3, about one-quarter of children go online daily, increasing to about half by age 5. And by age 8, more than two-thirds use the Internet on any given weekday. Children ages 5 to 9 average about 28 minutes online daily. In 2009, the oldest children in our review (8 to 10) spent about 46 minutes on a computer every day. This is more than double the amount of time 8-to-10-year olds spent online in 2006 (19 minutes).

The report adds, however, the Internet is still nowhere near the amount of time they spend in front of the television. In fact, with all the electronic options around them, children have become multitaskers. The report calculates that each day, school-age children pack almost 8 hours of media exposure into 5.5 hours of time. "By using more than one medium at a time, also known as media multitasking, children can
up their media consumption and squeeze more technology into their few non-school hours." This includes TV, the Internet, CD and iTunes players, video games, and phones.

So what does this mean for business and government? The problem is that some children have greater access than others, and thus may cut into overall competitiveness. "As electronics drop in price — becoming affordable for more families — another divide persists: compared with their middle-income peers, low-income children are less likely to use digital media to build the type of knowledge and skills they will need to compete and cooperate in the global economy." In addition, lower-income children may have less adult guidance, and thus may "spend more time on lower-quality Web sites or activities that won’t help them develop school-based skills."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards