PhotoThe use of media devices is higher than it has ever been before, and one of the groups commonly associated with all that screen time is children and teenagers. It often falls to parents to try and limit the amount of screen exposure and set a good example, but a new study shows that their media use may be just as bad.

Researchers at the Common Sense Census conducted surveys on over 1,700 parents with children between the ages of 8 and 18. They found that parents spent roughly 9 hours and 22 minutes on some sort of media device. The vast majority of that time wasn’t work-related either; the researchers said that only 18%, or 1 hour and 22 minutes, of that time was work-related screen time. The rest was used on “personal screen media” – activities like watching TV, playing games, or surfing the web.

Perhaps ironically, over half of participating parents said that they were worried that their children would become addicted to technology or that it would affect their quality of sleep. Seventy-eight percent also said that they thought they were good role models when it came to media use.

“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, CEO of Common Sense Census.

Parental concerns

Social media and internet use stood out as big concerns for parents in the study. Around half of the respondents said that they thought too much time on social media negatively affected physical activity, and a smaller faction said that it hurt children’s ability to focus (35%), impeded face-to-face communication (34%), and worsened behavior (24%), school performance (22%), emotional well-being (20%), and relationships with friends (20%). However, 44% of parents thought social media made friendships stronger.

Parents who were concerned about general internet use said they were “moderately” or “extremely” worried about four major things: spending too much time online (43%), over-sharing personal details (38%), accessing online pornography (36%), and exposure to violent content (36%).

Other concerns connected to media use primarily focused on addiction and health. Fifty-six percent of parents said they were worried that their children could become addicted to technology, while 34% said they were specifically worried about their children not getting enough sleep because of media devices.

Double standard?

While parents have all these concerns about their children’s media use, they tend to have a much more cavalier stance when it comes to their own consumption. The study found that, on average, parents spent 3 hours and 17 minutes watching TV, DVDs, or video on a daily basis. Video gaming came in at the next highest use (1:30), followed by social networking (1:06), browsing websites (0:51), and other activities on computers, smartphones, and tablets (0:44).

The researchers found that level of education and income were factors that affected media use. Parents that had a BA degree or more spent 1 hour and 33 minutes less on personal screen media than parents with a high school diploma or less. Parents who made under $35,000 per year had the most logged personal screen time with 9 hours and 15 minutes, compared to parents making between $35,000 and $100,000 (7:42) and those making over $100,000 (6:41).

While talking to parents about their media use, the researchers found that some participants were often surprised by how much time they spent on certain activities.

“I like to play Words with Friends, and sometimes I’ll find that after a while I’ll be like, oh my God, I’ve been on this for an hour, and you have to say, OK, I have to put this away. I can see how children can get hooked on playing video games or using media the entire weekend,” said one mother of a 15-year-old.

While the surveys found that many parents mediate their child’s use of technology or screen time, the findings suggest that taking the time to examine their own consumption habits could be beneficial. The full study can be found here.


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