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Toddlers and preschoolers are often left to their own mobile devices, with half enjoying their very own TV by the tender age of 4 and more than three-quarters regularly using their own mobile devices, researchers said Monday.
Most are starting before they are even a year old — and by age 3, they're using the devices all by themselves, the team reports in the journal Pediatrics.
The survey was done in a single urban pediatric clinic in Philadelphia, and the researchers note that the findings do not necessarily extend to the whole country.
But they paint a troubling picture of populations of low-income and minority babies, and toddlers being kept quiet with televisions or tablet devices streaming cartoons.
"At age 4, one-half of the children had their own television and nearly three-fourths their own mobile device. The most popular device was a tablet, owned by two-thirds of 4-year-olds," Dr. Hilda Kabali of Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, and her colleagues, wrote in their report.
The team surveyed parents of 250 children brought into the clinic in October and November of 2014.
What they found was startling.
"Almost all children (96.6 percent) used mobile devices, and most started using before age 1," the researchers wrote.
"Parents gave children devices when doing house chores (70 percent), to keep them calm (65 percent), and at bedtime (29 percent)."
But even the smallest kids were using the devices daily and became adept very quickly.
"Most 3- and 4-year-olds used devices without help, and one-third engaged in media multitasking. Content delivery applications such as YouTube and Netflix were popular," the researchers wrote.
The group Common Sense Media's nationwide survey says 72 percent of children aged up to 8 used mobile devices in 2013, up from 38 percent in 2011. New figures are due out this week.
To some degree, the mobile devices are replacing TV, "On average, children spent 45 minutes a day watching television, 27 minutes watching television shows or videos on a mobile device, 22 minutes using apps on a mobile device, and 15 minutes playing games on a video console," the researchers wrote.
"Television screen time remained constant across all age groups, but mobile device screen time increased with age."
The AAP, which represents pediatricians, says the real world does include mobile devices and doctors must recognize this.
The new study doesn't attempt to find out whether this heavy and almost universal use of computers, smartphones and tablets is good for kids. But it's important to find out, they said