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How Do Parents Think 'Educational' Screen Time Affects Learning?

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As media becomes more prevalent in kids' lives, parents are grappling with the potential benefits and pitfalls of screen time -- what's just the right amount, what's truly educational, what's beneficial, and what's detrimental.

To get a better understanding of parents' attitudes around kids' educational media, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center surveyed 1,577 parents of kids ages 2 to 10 years old, including a representative group of African American and Latino parents. They defined educational media as content that's "good for a child's learning or growth, or that teaches some type of lesson, such as an academic or social skill," and includes TV, DVDs, video games, books, e-readers, smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices used at home.

Some interesting patterns emerged from this big survey. Parents surveyed said they considered nearly half (44 percent) of their kids' screen media use as educational. That amounts to 56 minutes out of a total 2:07 screen media per day. And more than half (57 percent) say their kids are actually learning from the educational media they consume, and take action after consuming it. For example, about a third of kids engage in imaginative play, and more than a quarter ask questions about what they watched or played, though only 18 percent asked their parents to plan a project or an activity inspired by that media. But as kids get older, their habits start to change -- away from consuming more educational media.

Some noteworthy numbers:

TV Vs. Everything Else


TV is still very much king of media in most homes. Kids watch way more educational TV -- an average of 42 minutes a day -- than they interact with other educational content, like mobile devices (5 minutes), computers (5 minutes) or video games (3 minutes).

Age and Educational Content

Younger kids are much more likely to engage with educational media than older kids: 1 hour and 16 minutes a day for 2-4 year-olds, 50 minutes a day for 5-7 year-olds, and 42 minutes a day for 8-to-10 year-olds. However, the reverse is true about the amount of time older kids spend with screen media versus younger kids. As children get older, the amount of time they spend with screen media leaps from 1 hour and 37 minutes to 2 hours and 36 minutes a day, but the proportion of education content plunges from 78 percent to 27 percent.

Income Differences

Lower-income kids consume more educational content than higher-income kids: 57 percent of educational screen time compared to 40 percent. "This may reflect a difference in the types of content children are eScreen Shot 2014-01-23 at 9.02.48 PMngaging with, or it may be that lower- and higher-income parents hold different views of what constitutes 'educational' media. Indeed, lower-income parents are more likely to rate specific media titles as educational than higher-income parents are," the report states. Broken down further, more lower-income kids watch educational TV than higher income kids (35 percent compared to 18 percent), and play more educational games on mobile devices (12 percent compared to 5 percent).

When it comes to access to the internet and devices, the differences were quite stark. Only 58 percent of parents on the lowest end of the income bracket (under $25,000) had high-speed internet access compared to 98 percent of high-income parents who made more than $100,000 per year; 57 percent of lowest-income parents had smartphones in the home compared to 84 percent of the highest income households.

And yet more lowest-income kids -- 66 percent -- asked to do a project or activity as a result of using educational media, as opposed to 50 percent of the highest income kids.

Cultural Differences

Latino parents were the least likely group to say their kids learned from educational media. Compared to 91 percent of African American parents and 79 percent of Caucasian parents who said their kids benefited in learning, only 63 percent of Latino parents said their kids had "learned a lot or some about  math from computers."

Variety of Content

As far as results from interacting with the educational content, more than one-third of parents said their kids learned reading skills and 28 percent said kids learned math skills, compared to only 19 percent of parents who said their kids learned "a lot" about science from an educational media platform. What's more, about a quarter of parents thought their kids learned social skills and 21 percent said they learned healthy habits.


Where do parents learn about education media? Teachers’ suggestions are highly valued -- 40 percent say that's their source.

What do with all this information? The Cooney Center offers some insightful conclusions, too. Be sure to dig into the entire document to learn more.

Some easy-to-grasp charts here: