Turns out parents are no better than their kids when it comes to screen time


Sure, tweens and teens spend hours a day as relative screen zombies, eyes fixed and faces aglow in the radiant light of their pocket screens. (You don’t have to be a parent to know that.) But that’s not the end of the story.

Mom and Dad, it seems you have more in common with the kids than you might know. 

On average, parents are spending what amounts to more than a full workday connected to screen-based media, according to a new survey from Common Sense Media. Just like their kids, parents are spending upward of nine hours a day engaging with media. 

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“If you think about it, that’s more time than you spend sleeping … or anything you do,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that helps families navigate media and technology.

They asked a sample of about 1,800 parents of tweens (ages 8-12) and teens (13-18) from across the country this summer about how they spent their time using media, whether it was using computers or hand-held digital devices, watching television or reading. They also asked about how parents monitor and what they think about how their kids use media. 

The resulting picture further fills out the sketch of tech use among American families that Common Sense began with its earlier survey of how kids engage with media. 

Steyer, himself a father of four, said he was stunned by the amount of time spent on or with screens — expecting it to max out at about four hours, tops — and by the disconnect parents seem to have about the examples they are setting. It’s not exactly a reflection of the “do as I say, not as I do” adage — it seems to be a less self-aware portrait than that. 

Some 78% of the parents surveyed said they believe they are “good media and technology role models” for their children. 

“It shows the ubiquity of technology and media,” Steyer said. “It shows we aren’t always aware of how our own behavior influences our children. It’s a wake-up call.”

Just in case you’re thinking it might be a matter of work versus play, it wasn’t all or even mostly for work: The survey found only about an hour and a half of the screen use was for work, and 82% of the time was devoted to what they called “personal screen media.” 

As parents, many of us think of how much we become like our own parents. This survey seems to offer a different reflection: One that looks more like our own kids. 

Not too long ago, the  American Academy of Pediatrics updated its longstanding no-screens guidelines for early childhood with recommendations that serve as a nod to the continuing role technology plays in our daily lives — and to the fact that the digital landscape continues to change more rapidly than researchers can study it.

Some studies have shown that most babies start interacting with digital media as early as 4 months old, and that most 2-year-olds use a mobile device on a daily basis — mom or dad’s device, most likely.

Some other interesting highlights from the Common Sense survey: 

  • Two-thirds (67%) of parents put a higher priority on monitoring media use over respecting their children's privacy.

  • A majority of parents report that mobile devices are not allowed during family meals (78%) or bedtime (63%).

  • African American parents spend about an hour and a half more with personal screen media than Latino parents, who in turn spend about two and a half hours more with personal screen media than white parents. (There was no breakout for responses from Asian American parents.)

  • Income and education also served as dividing lines, with parents of lower income and less education spending more time than those with higher income and more education.

One notable demographic breakout of parents playing a role in managing their kids’ media diet is that nearly two-thirds of Latino and black parents surveyed reported being “highly aware of the content their children” have access to, compared with about half of white parents.

“This is such a big issue in our lives … and we are the issue, parents are the issue,” Steyer said. “And we have to model behavior. And kids won’t change unless we change.”

Are you a parent navigating how to raise your kids in our constantly plugged-in world? We’d love to hear your thoughts and approaches and may use your responses in a follow-up story. You can fill out the form below or share your thoughts in the comments section.

Chat me up on Twitter: @mmaltaisLA 


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