There's no arguing the Internet has made life easier for many families. But as more people, especially children, embrace social networking, the Web could pose a threat to face-time between family members and kids with their friends.

A new survey by the Center for the Digital Future, at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California reveals parents' growing concern about the amount of time their kids spend online.

Many are starting to view the Internet in the same way they view television: too much is not okay.

Researchers at the Center report parents are now limiting their children's Internet access and television use in nearly identical ways.

Three in five American households restrict television use as a punishment, a figure that's hardly budged over the past decade. Restricting children's Internet use as a form of punishment has steadily increased over the years and is now a practice in 57 percent of the nation's homes with children under 18.

Less facetime

The survey also revealed eleven percent of parents with children under 18 worry the Internet is reducing the amount of face-time their kids have with friends. This concern has grown in the last decade; only seven percent of parents had this fear when the Center's surveys began in 2000.

And it's not just time with friends that's suffering; the 2010 surveys report family face-time is suffering because of Internet use, too.

From an average of 26 hours per week during the first half of the decade, family face-time had fallen to just under 18 hours per week by 2010.

Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Center, whose work is focused on gender and family issues, believes online community involvements are playing a significant role in reducing family time.

He points to Center surveys which, since 2006, indicate roughly half of those involved with an online community value it as highly as their real world ones.

While Gilbert believes Americans' growing attachment to social networks and the increased time they often demand is to blame for dwindling face-time between family members, there's really no way to determine who or what is to blame.

"With all the digital diversions out there, it's hard to pin this on any one thing." said Gilbert.

Dr. Jeffrey Cole, the Center's director, says recent expressions of parental disenchantment with the Internet confirm the Center's earlier predictions.

He notes that, while families have traditionally turned technological advances, such as the telephone and television, to their advantage, the interactive demands of digital technologies and social networking threaten to put inordinate stress on the modern family.

Interestingly, while parents' concerns over their children's Web use grows, many still consider it the lesser of two evils compared to television.

Sixty-nine percent of parents said the time their kids spent online was "just about right" as opposed to the 57 percent who said the same about television.  Only 28 percent of parents thought their children spent too much time on the Internet, against 41 percent who thought television time was excessive.