Tech Habits of American Families

How does yours compare?


Published:

Photo by ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Not long ago, a search engine company called ReportLinker surveyed 670 families with children under age 15 to better understand the relationship between American kids and their devices. The results provide snapshots of how technology has been integrated into American families. In many ways, parents are following recommendations from experts and organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. In a few key areas, however, parents seem to be ignoring best practices and following the path of least resistance.

To get an idea of where your family falls, answer the following questions and compare your family’s tech habits to those of other families and recommendations from the AAP.

How many screens do you have at home? Counting TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones and game consoles, the average number of screens per family is 7.3. Most households own a TV (94 percent), and about half have a video game console. 

Just over three-fourths of the families surveyed have at least one smartphone in the household, and 62 percent of parents said their kids spend three to five hours a day using a smartphone. Researchers also noted that among families with kids under age 10, tablets are very popular — 58 percent of children under age 5 use them.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic is about technology in bedrooms. The AAP recommends that bedrooms be device-free and children “avoid exposure to devices or screens for one hour before bedtime.” Despite that advice, about two-thirds of  families with five or more devices allow kids to have one in the bedroom, and those kids are more likely to use devices before they sleep.

How many hours per day do your kids interact with technology? Half the parents surveyed said they limit “plug-in” time to less than two hours a day, but that rule is more likely enforced in families that have fewer devices and keep them out of bedrooms.

The AAP recently revised its guidelines to say that “parents must develop personalized media use plans” based on each child’s age, health, temperament and developmental stage, and that technology doesn’t squeeze out other healthy activities, including sleep, physical play and time away from media.

When do your kids use technology? More than 80 percent of families said kids use devices during their spare time. Only 6 percent allow them to be used at mealtime. That’s consistent with the AAP recommendation that mealtimes be media-free.

Is technology a positive or negative influence on your kids? Experts continue to debate whether technology is changing childhood, but half of parents surveyed said they think technology creates more benefits than risks, and 25 percent believe being comfortable with technology is essential for kids. For the 25 percent who reported that they feel technology has a negative impact on children, 11 percent believe technology creates more risks than benefits and 14 percent feel technology “ruins the essence of childhood.”

Do your children manage their own tech time? Fifty-eight percent of parents believe their kids can manage their own time on electronic devices. In the households where children use screens more than five hours a day, 43 percent of parents think kids are doing a good job of time management. On the other hand, if you sometimes find it difficult to manage screen time, you’re not alone — 42 percent of parents admitted they feel the same way.

What are the main disadvantages of using tech devices? Twenty percent of parents couldn’t think of any disadvantages. One-third said they worry that technology keeps children from more traditional childhood activities such as playing, going outside or reading; and 31 percent were concerned that time with devices makes kids more isolated and less social. Only 10 percent said they worry about kids being less creative and 4 percent are concerned about increased aggression. To those concerns, AAP adds sleep disruption, the risk of obesity because of too much sedentary time and problematic internet use, including online bullying.

What are the main advantages? When asked about benefits of technology, parents were clear: 40 percent feel technology promotes cognitive development and school readiness. About one-fourth agree that technology expands a child’s horizons, and another quarter thought access to devices makes kids more savvy about using technology of all kinds. Only 7 percent admitted using tech gadgets to amuse kids so they could do something else. AAP guidelines also note the social benefits of devices, including the opportunity to interact with distant friends and family members.

 How often do you know what content your kids are watching? Even though parents vary a lot in how much access they give kids to technology, they agree with the AAP on one thing — it’s important to monitor what kids are consuming. About 83 percent say they keep an eye on what kids watch, and 71 percent claim to have activated parental controls. 

Of course, one survey isn’t definitive, but it does reveal places where parents are on the right track — and where improvement is possible. In the end, every family has to devise a device policy that works for them. To help, the AAP offers an interactive tool called Create Your Family Media Plan. Find it by searching for for “Media Plan” at healthychildren.org.


Carolyn Jabs is author of the award-winning book, “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart,” available at Amazon and cooperativewisdom.org.

 

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