For Global Kids, Screens Are as Much a Part of Childhood as Playgrounds

Kids are spending more time with screens than playing outdoors—and while they have countless entertainment options on their devices, parents wield a quiet influence.

For kids around the world, interactive, portable, digital entertainment is a part of everyday life—more, perhaps, even than playgrounds. Most never knew a time before smartphones, tablets and laptops played a central role in the experience of childhood. They don’t think of “going online” as an activity—they simply open an app and start using it.

To illustrate the interplay between technology and entertainment for children around the world today, Nickelodeon Kids and Family GPS has distilled some findings from its conversations with over 60,000 kids and parents in 24 countries in 2015:

Kids have access to many portable devices, but their tablet usage stands out. Kids are almost equally likely to have tablets (64%), smartphones (63%) and laptops (63%). However, kids are 24% more to access a tablet than adults overall.

They use tablets and smartphones for “me time” viewing. When kids watch TV content alone, they often choose tablets (42%) or smartphones (40%)—at least in part because they can navigate them independently. The TV set is their device of choice for viewing with family—parents (43%) and siblings (39%).

App usage is widespread. Nearly 9 out of 10 kids use them—especially those with younger parents. The average child has 7 apps, and families have an average of 4 apps that they use together.

Parents want kids to use apps independently, but within limits that they set. Control is important to parents—they like being able to limit the amount of time kids can spend playing or using an app. This relieves parents’ concerns about their kids’ usage while allowing kids to operate autonomously. Parents also like to be able to select specific episodes or activities for their kids, and to personalize by setting up different profiles for individual children.

As parents work to create controlled environments for kids, screen time wins out over outdoor play. Motivated by anxiety, parents filter many of their kids’ decisions as a way of maintaining control—and this can mean encouraging activities that keep them indoors. Watching TV and video content is by far kids’ main entertainment activity (72%), ahead of indoor play (57%) and outdoor play (42%). Video games (38%) also figure prominently for kids, ranking behind indoor/outdoor play. In fact, more kids are allowed to have their own cell phones (59%) than play in their own neighborhood without an adult (52%).