As a new study shows surging use of hand-held devices by young children, a fresh initiative aims to tackle the growing trend while directly challenging corporations who exploit children's screen time in the name of profit.
"Often missing from the story about screen time is that the entities who benefit most from children being on screens are corporations and marketers."
—Josh Golin, CCFCLaunched Wednesday by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the new "solutions-oriented" project—called the Children's Screen Time Action Network—targets those on the frontlines of screen issues, be they parents, educators, pediatricians, or psychologists. The effort will provide resources to help caregivers reduce screen time and not just make screen time "better" for kids.
"The idea is to help professionals to move beyond just what's wrong to what can we do about it," Josh Golin, executive director of CCFC, told Common Dreams in an interview.
Among the issues Golin's group heard from professionals is that they often felt "like they were the only people doing this work." Part of the goal, then, was to let them know "they're not the only ones who've noticed that the children they see as professionals are really being negatively affected by too much screen time."
In addition to being a hub for resource-sharing and connecting with a cohort of peers, the network seeks to be a place to share best practices.
"One of the reasons why CCFC wanted to start this network and be the facilitator of the network is to ensure that commercialism and corporate marketing is part of the story when we talk about screen time," Golin explained.
"So often when we talk about screen time," he said, "we're talking about things like education, how it's affecting their learning, how it's affecting their attention, their sleep, affecting their relationships. Often missing from the story about screen time is that the entities who benefit most from children being on screens are corporations and marketers."
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While on traditional television "a few rules still exist to limit the ways you can advertise to children," he explained, but with "mobile and online, essentially anything goes when it comes to marketing to children."
"One of the reasons that these new screens are so compelling and addicting," Golin warns, "is that they are deliberately designed to be that way for the benefit of corporations and the benefit of advertisers."
"That has to be part of the conversation," he said. "Screens are marketing devices. It's easy to forget that because we're all so addicted to them but they are."
The new effort comes on the heels of a study that reveals just how much unfettered access marketers have to the youngest screen-users.
Last week, an analysis by Common Sense Media on the use of smartphones and tablets by children aged 0-8 showed that while those in this age group spent from five minutes a day on handheld devices in 2011, the amount jumped to 48 minutes a day in 2017. It also fund that 42 percent of children 8 and younger now have their own tablet devices—a jump from less than 1 percent in 2011. Forty-two percent of parents also said say the TV is on "always" or "most of the time" at home.
The changes, said James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, to NPR, represent "a seismic shift" that is "fundamentally redefining childhood experiences" with "enormous implications we have just begun to understand."