Do as I say? Parents get as much daily screen time as their teens

American parents and teens both spend about nine hours a day gazing at screens, a study finds.

Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters
Julia Vitora (L), 11, Barry Vitora, Sabrina McKenna, 11, and Gianni Vitora, 11, play Pokemon Go in Central Park.

When it comes to screen addiction, parents are just as bad as their children, according to a new study conducted by Common Sense Media. Study authors found that on average, parents spend up to nine hours in front of a screen each day – and at least seven of those hours are for non-work related reasons.

Parents have long lamented the role that screen time plays in family life today, yet this new study indicates that parental calls for their children to unplug may amount to the pot calling the kettle black.

For parents who seek to improve and moderate their childrens’ relationships with technology, this study is a signal to take a look at their own habits before they look at their children’s.

"I found the numbers astounding, the sheer volume of technology used by parents," Common Sense Media founder James Steyer said. "There's really a big disconnect between their own behavior and their self-perception, as well as their perception of their kids."

To be fair to parents, much of that personal screen time happens while they are at work. Fifty-eight percent of parents admitted that they listen to music online while at work, an activity which counts as screen time. Another 49 percent send text messages.

Yet even with these relatively harmless multitasking hours, the average adult surveyed by Common Sense Media spent more than three hours each day watching shows and videos, and another hour and a half playing video games.

Yet the survey found that 78 percent of parents believed that they were modeling good online behavior for their children.

Engagement did differ among parents – those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, for example, spent several fewer hours in front of screens than did those without. And race played a role as well, with African American parents spending approximately four hours more each day on personal media than white parents.

To be fair to parents, experts say, many parenting tasks take place online. Communication with other parents, scheduling events, and contacting teachers all happen online, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Parents are also conflicted about the purposes for which their children use the internet. Ninety-four percent of parents, for example, say that the internet is beneficial for their children’s academic success, although one Florida parent told CNN that there are still benefits to offline research.

"My son actually said last week, 'Gosh, I can't imagine that you had to go to the library to write research papers. That really sucked,' " said Mickey Morrison. "I said, 'Actually no, you know why?' And he immediately got it, and said, 'Well, at least you knew every source in there is a credible one.' "

Some are also concerned about the way their children interpret their online privacy – and many say that their children’s security is more important to them than privacy.

Common Sense Media founder Mr. Steyer has some advice for parents who are concerned about the way that they and their children use media.

It is important, he says, to be open with your children about online use, but to also set aside time to step back from screens.

"Media can give you a lot of teachable moments, if you use it wisely."

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