Study Finds Parents Are Teaching Kids the Wrong Things About Screen Time


Some parents might not be the role models they think they are to their children, at least when it comes to unplugging, a new study suggests.

A study led by Common Sense Media found that parents spend more than nine hours a day with screen media. The majority of that time — almost eight hours — is spent with personal devices, while about 90 minutes is work-related.

The majority of the 1,786 parents – 78 percent, in fact – who participated in the study said they believe they are good role models for their children when it comes to media use. The parents said they are concerned about their children’s social media and online activities.

Flickr Image Courtesy: Charles Kremenak, CC BY-SA 2.0
Flickr Image Courtesy: Charles Kremenak, CC BY-SA 2.0

“These findings are fascinating because parents are using media for entertainment just as much as their kids, yet they express concerns about their kids’ media use while also believing that they are good role models for their kids,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media.

56 percent of parents worried that their children may become addicted to technology, and 34 percent thought technology use negatively impacts their children’s sleep.

“Media can add a lot of value to relationships, education, and development, and parents clearly see the benefits, but if they are concerned about too much media in their kids’ lives, it might be time to reassess their own behavior so that they can truly set the example they want for their kids,” Steyer said.

Related: Screen Time at Bedtime Is Keeping Kids Awake

The study was also able to get a look into the parents’ concerns and how they monitor their children’s screen time. Fifty percent of parents indicated that they thought using social media hurt their child’s physical activity.

Parents were also “moderately” or “extremely” worried about children spending too much time online (43 percent), over-sharing personal details (38 percent), accessing online pornography (36 percent) and being exposed to violent images and videos (36 percent). Common Sense found differences in parents’ media use by population, income and even education.

According to the study, African American parents spend almost 11 hours with personal screen media, while Hispanic parents spend almost nine hours and white parents spend six hours. Parents from lower-income households spend nine hours with personal screen media, middle-income parents spend almost eight hours, and higher-income spend almost seven hours.

“I think it shows us that, just like our kids, American parents live in a 24/7 world of media and technology,” Steyer said. “So there’s a pretty big disconnect there. You could even say it’s a little hypocritical.”

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Parents with a high school degree or less spend nine hours with personal screen media compared to parents with at least some college education who spend almost eight hours, while parents with an undergraduate degree or higher only spend six hours with personal screen media.

Even though parents were worried about their children’s use of technology, there were still positive reviews about technology as a whole. Almost all parents agreed that technology positively supports schoolwork and education (94 percent), supports the acquisition of new skills (88 percent) and that it prepares children for future jobs (89 percent).

“Children are great mimics, which is why it is so important that parents introduce real boundaries and balance early on,” said Steyer. “Media will always be a part of life, and every family is different, but in general, we recommend that parents set rules and clear plans so that kids understand what is appropriate.”