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Report: More Than Half Of U.S. Children Now Own A Smartphone By Age 11


OK. Here's a fact: More than half of American children now own a smartphone by the age of 11. That is according to a new national survey of kids' media use. So what are the implications of that? Well, NPR's Anya Kamenetz covers education, kids and tech. And she's been digging into these numbers and joins me. Hi, Anya.


GREENE: Am I wrong to be a little shocked by this? Eleven years old, more than half of American kids have smartphones. What - well, tell me about this survey.

KAMENETZ: You know, it's really interesting. So if you look around you, it may not be that surprising. But the survey was conducted by Common Sense Media, and they've been looking into kids and media use since 2003. And yes, we are seeing that a majority of kids are getting their first phones younger and younger. So in 2015, the last time they did this survey, most kids had a phone by age 14. And now it's just over half have their first phone by age 11. And about 1 in 5 have one by the age of 8 years old.

GREENE: Eight years old?


GREENE: I mean, that - what does that even tell us about children now?

KAMENETZ: Well, you know, it could be a lot of different things. And it truly depends on the family here, so I'm not necessarily hitting the panic button. Like, sometimes a kid might need to go between Dad's and Mom's house - right? - and they need the phone for communication.


KAMENETZ: Obviously, a phone, you know, is a connection to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, a lot of scary stuff. And some researchers say, you know, there could be a silver lining in that if your kid starts out with a phone earlier, as long as there's a strong parental hand guiding them and looking over their shoulder and taking the phone away, you know, certainly at bedtime and at other designated times, maybe that gives you longer to model healthy habits instead of kind of throwing them the phone at age 15, let's say, where they're really not listening to Mom and Dad.

GREENE: OK. So beyond a safety necessity in some cases, like, did you learn about what kids are actually doing online when they have these things?

KAMENETZ: So one piece of good news is we're actually not seeing kids spend a lot more time with media overall compared with 2015. What we have seen is they're watching less TV; they're watching more videos online. They're also spending more time using screens for homework, and that's a real challenge given the, you know, dangers of multitasking, which is not great for their brain.

GREENE: So does the survey break it down in terms of which kids might have phones and which might not?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. And there's actually some really interesting points there. For example, ownership of phones is very, very high across the board, and the lowest-income young people reported spending almost two hours per day more using screen media. And that is a really big difference compared to the most affluent youth. And first of all, this is a sign that the digital divide has a very different definition than it might have just five years ago.

And there's so much that we don't know. I mean, are they spending more time unsupervised? What are they actually doing on the phones? And the big one is, is this a positive or a negative - right? - this class divide? We don't know.

GREENE: Were there other divides that kind of struck you?

KAMENETZ: Well, you might not be surprised that boys play more video games. Girls enjoy listening to music and reading more than boys do. They also say that they like social media a lot more, and they use it more often.

And another really intriguing area is racial and ethnic divides. So black and Hispanic teens report that they spend much more time on social media. They like social media more. And that's unexpected, but it's also really intriguing because there's other research that suggests that young people, people of color as a group are more likely to value social media and possibly even use it as a bridge to civic engagement. So there's a lot more to dig into here.

GREENE: Such interesting stuff. NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz. Thanks, Anya.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.
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