If you want to scold your teen or tween for their screen time on smartphones, tablets and computers, think twice: You may be setting their example.
On average, parents of children ages 8 to 18 consume screen media for more than nine hours each day, and of that, these parents devote nearly eight hours to watching movies, playing video games and scrolling through social media. These findings come from a new report released by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that studies the relationships between families and technology.
And nearly eight out of 10 parents surveyed said they were “good media and technology role models,” according to the report that is consistent with previous research.
Families are still figuring out how to adapt to a “healthy digital lifestyle” with technologies that emerged only a few years ago, said Michael Robb, the organization’s director of research who led the project.
“There’s a tension where parents are struggling to find out what the balance is not just for their kids but for themselves as well,” he said.
Using a nationally representative online panel, researchers surveyed 1,786 U.S. parents of children between ages 8 and 18 in July. Parents were asked to report how much time they spent on different screen devices and how they used them.
The questions could be tricky to answer because these devices are so pervasive in everyday life. A parent may pull out a phone to check the time, and end up responding to an email or looking at Facebook or Twitter.
“We check our smartphones and tablets over the course of a day constantly, so assessing that is challenging,” Robb said.
When researchers broke down parents’ responses by their education, income or race and ethnicity, they found significant differences. The lower a parent’s household income or educational attainment, the more time parents reported spending with their screens.
Robb suggested a better way to study these trends would be to include time diaries or electronic monitoring, but he said that research can be “very costly, very quickly.”
But technology use among families is not all bad, Robb stressed. In fact, these devices create opportunities for families to watch movies together or learn new concepts like never before. While screentime is an important number, Robb said it’s not the only number that matters. Quality of time counts, too.