Parenting children in the age of screens

(U.S.) – Many parents of young children in the United States worry about their children’s screen time and the impact it will have on them.

Fully 71% of U.S. parents of a child under the age of 12 say they are at least somewhat concerned their child might ever spend too much time in front of screens, including 31% who are very concerned about this, according to a new Pew Research Center report. Two-thirds of parents who have at least one child under the age of 18, but who may also have an adult child or children, say parenting is harder today than it was 20 years ago, citing reasons such as the impact of digital technology (26%), the rise of social media (21%) and how access to technology exposes children to things at a young age (14%)

While a majority of parents of young children say they are very (39%) or somewhat confident (45%) in knowing the appropriate amount of screen time for their child, they are also seeking out advice from others. Some 61% of parents of a child age 11 or younger say they have received advice or information about screen time from a doctor or other medical professional; 55% say the same about other parents, while 45% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 have turned to teachers for help.

The new report, based on a survey of 3,640 U.S. parents who have at least one child or children age 17 or younger conducted online March 2-15, 2020, using Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel and the Ipsos KnowledgePanel, finds that 71% of parents believe the widespread use of smartphones by young children may result in more potential harm than potential benefits. Roughly seven-in-ten parents think that children under the age of 12 using smartphones will hurt their ability to learn effective social skills (71%) or develop healthy friendships (68%). And just over half of all parents – 54% – say younger kids’ engagement with these devices will hurt their ability to do well in school.

At the same time, 67% of parents say their child age 11 or younger ever uses or interacts with a tablet computer, and 60% say the same for smartphones.

YouTube has emerged as a key platform for both younger and older kids. Eight-in-ten parents of a child age 11 or younger say their child watches videos on YouTube. Fully 97% of parents whose child watches videos on YouTube say it often or sometimes keeps their child entertained, 88% believe it helps them learn new things, and 75% say the platform exposes their child to different cultures. Meanwhile, a majority of parents whose child age 11 or younger watches content on YouTube are concerned about their child being exposed to inappropriate content on the video-sharing site.

But the conversation around screen time is not limited to children. Parents themselves grapple with their own device distractions. When asked if they spend too much, too little or not enough time on their smartphone, more than half (56%) of parents who have a minor child, but who may also have adult children, say they spend too much time on their smartphone, while about seven-in-ten (68%) say they are at least sometimes distracted by their phone when spending time with their children.

Other key findings include:

Most parents don’t think it’s acceptable for a child under the age of 12 to have their own smartphone. Just 22% of parents who have at least one child under the age of 18, but who may also have an adult child or children, think it is OK for a child under the age of 12 to have one, compared with 73% who say this for children ages 12 to 17. Parents are more accepting of children having their own tablet at a younger age, with 65% of all parents saying it is acceptable for a child to have their own tablet computer before the age of 12.

 

Vast majorities of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say they limit when and how long their child can use screens, while digital ‘grounding’ is a relatively common practice for parents. Fully 86% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say they limit the time of day or length of time their child can use screens, while eight-in-ten say they take away their child’s smartphone or internet privileges as punishment. About three-quarters of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say they check the websites this child visits or the mobile apps they use (75%) and use parental controls to restrict how much this child uses screens (72%).

 

In addition to parents’ concerns about screen time, there are other tech-related worries that are on their minds. Around six-in-ten parents of a child age 11 or younger say they are at least somewhat concerned about their child ever being the target of online predators (63%), accessing sexually explicit content (60%) or accessing violent content online (59%). Somewhat similar shares (56%) report they are very or somewhat concerned that their child might ever be bullied or harassed online.

 

These are among the findings from the new report, which is based on a survey of 3,640 parents who have at least one child or children age 17 or younger, but who may also have an adult child or children, conducted online March 2-15, 2020. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

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