Parents are as bad as kids when it comes to electronics


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 each day connected to screen-based media, according to a new survey from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization helping parents navigate media and technology. Just like their kids, parents are spending upward of nine hours a day engaging with media.

“That study’s kinda sobering,” said Los Angeles-based pediatrician Dr. Corinn Cross, noting how seamlessly integrated technology has become in our lives.

Common Sense surveyed 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. It’s perhaps the only such look at parental screen time, as the digital landscape and culture of technology evolve so rapidly.

“I feel that personally. We look at those numbers, and we say that’s insane for our kids,” Cross said. “It’s kind of insane for an adult, too.”

The results surprised even Common Sense Chief Executive James P. Steyer. “Honestly, I thought it would be, like, four hours a day,” said Steyer, himself a father of four. “Nine hours a day? What are we doing?”

Not just work, it turns out. It wasn’t even mostly for work. The survey found that only about an hour and a half of the screen use was for work, and 82 percent of the time was devoted to what they called “personal screen media.”

“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.”

Some other interesting highlights from the Common Sense survey:

Two-thirds (67 percent) 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 percent) or bedtime (63 percent).

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.