The long-standing joke in computer help desk circles is that the best question to ask those having trouble with their computers is "Sir, is there a child in the house?" For a particularly hilarious riff on this idea, watch Wes Borg's "Internet Help Desk" video on YouTube.

Now a new study by the NPD Group, "Kids and Consumer Electronics Trends III," underscores just how early kids can start handling the household tech chores. According to the report, the average age at which kids begin using consumer electronics (CE) has dropped from 8.1 years in 2005 to 6.7 years in 2007.

While all consumer electronics devices saw an earlier age of adoption, the survey showed that the biggest age drops were in the use of DVD players and cell phones.

Ease of Use, No Fear

In an e-mail interview, Anita Frazier, an industry analyst for the NPD Group, said that one reason for the drop in adoption ages is the increasing ease of use of many consumer electronics devices -- a trend that might be aimed more at parents than kids.

"I do think that in a world where kids are surrounded by computers, cell phones, MP3 players, portable DVD players, and [where] they see their parents and older siblings using them constantly," Frazier added, "it is a natural progression for the kid to want to emulate that behavior and adopt it themselves."

Besides that, Frazier noted, kids have "absolutely no fear factor when it comes to technology."

TVs, Cell Phones Most Popular

The NPD Group gathered its data Relevant Products/Services by conducting an online poll of a representative sample of adults with children between the ages of 4 and 14. The survey was conducted between March 16 and March 22, 2007.

Not surprisingly, the consumer electronics device that kids use most often is the television, with parents reporting that their children turn on the TV an average of 5.8 days a week.

Cell phones ranked second at 4.3 days per week, and another television-related technology -- digital video recorders -- a close third at 4.1 days per week.

Weakening Interest in CE?

Lurking in the NPD Group is a finding that could be of some concern for device manufcturers: The average number of CE devices both owned and used by kids is slightly lower than it was in the last two years surveyed, and the number of households that own CE devices has declined.

In addition, nearly a quarter of the households surveyed reported that they have not purchased a consumer electronics device in the past year.

However, Frazier said she did not see the decline as a long-term problem. "I believe technology convergence plays a part [in the decline]," she said "and I also believe that the transition from shared household devices to personally owned/operated devices (think the transition from desktop computers to laptops) plays a part."

As newer technologies replace older, there might be a temporary decline in the number of devices, she said, noting that she expects that number to increase once again.