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Amid roiling debates about the impact of screen time on teenagers, roughly half of those ages 13 to 17 are themselves worried they spend too much time on their cellphones. Some 52% of U.S. teens report taking steps to cut back on their mobile phone use, and similar shares have tried to limit their use of social media (57%) or video games (58%), a new Pew Research Center survey finds.
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Parents, too, are anxious about the effects of screen time on their children, a separate survey shows. Roughly two-thirds of parents say they are concerned about their teen spending too much time in front of screens, and 57% report setting screen time restrictions for their teen in one way or another.
At the same time, some parents of teens admit they also struggle with the allure of screens: 36% say they themselves spend too much time on their cellphone. And 51% of teens say they often or sometimes find their parent or caregiver to be distracted by their own cellphone when they are trying to have a conversation with them.
Additionally, 15% of parents say they often lose focus at work because they are distracted by their phone. That is nearly double the share of teens (8%) who say they often lose focus in school due to their own cellphones.
As they look at their own lives and those of their peers, most teens see things that worry them. Roughly nine-in-ten teens view spending too much time online as a problem facing people their age, including 60% who say it is a major problem.
Despite these varying views about screen time, roughly half or more teens say they have tried to limit the amount of time they spend on each technology. Some 52% have ever cut back on the time they spend on their cellphone, while 57% have limited their time spent on social media and 58% have cut back on their time playing video games.
Along with asking teens about their views of screen time and distractions due to the technologies in their lives, the Center also fielded a separate survey in which parents of teenagers shared their views about a subset of these issues. At a broad level, this survey finds that parents are somewhat less concerned about their own technology use than teens are about theirs. Around one-third of parents (36%) say they spend too much time on their cellphone, and 23% say the same about their social media use. Slightly more than half of parents (55% in each case) believe they spend the right amount of time on their cellphone or on social media.2 For the most part, parents of different genders, races and ethnicities, and income levels report similar levels of concerns about their own technology use.
On the other hand, parents of boys and girls are equally concerned about their teen spending too much time in front of a screen, and parents are also about equally likely to set screen time limit for boys and girls.
Parents with young children themselves make clear they are anxious about the effects of screen time. Fully 71% of 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.1 And some parents with a child in this age range already believe their child spends too much time on certain devices, including a smartphone. (It is important to note that this survey was fielded before the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. that closed many schools and led to widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders throughout the country.)
While a majority of parents with a young child 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 and 55% say the same about other parents, while 45% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 have turned to teachers for help.
Parents of a child age 11 or younger is used to refer to parents who report having a child age 11 or younger. In cases where families have more than one child in this age range, these questions asked the parents focus on one of those children, either their oldest or youngest child in this age range (based on random assignment).
YouTube has emerged as a key platform for both younger and older kids. Fully 89% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say their child watches videos on YouTube, as do 81% of those who have a child age 3 to 4 and 57% of those who have child age 2 or younger. And while majorities of parents whose child uses YouTube credit the platform for entertaining and educating their children, a majority of these parents 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 phone, more than half of parents overall (56%) 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.
Across demographic groups, parents are more likely to say that parenting today is more difficult rather than easier when compared with the past, but there are some modest differences by age. About seven-in-ten parents ages 50 and older (71%) say parenting is harder today, versus 66% of 30- to 49-year-old parents and 60% of those ages 18 to 29.
When asked about the appropriate age for a child to have their own tablet, parents are more accepting of children having one at a younger age. Fully 65% of parents say it is acceptable for child to have their own tablet computer before the age of 12.
A clear majority of parents who have a child age 11 or younger say this child ever watches videos on YouTube. Among parents who say their child watches videos this way, 53% say their child does this daily, including 35% who say their child watches these videos on the platform several times a day.
But these numbers vary significantly by race and ethnicity. Black (50%) or Hispanic parents (40%) who have a child in this age range who watches YouTube are more likely to say their child does this several times a day, compared with white parents (29%).
Roughly half of parents of a child in this age range (49%) say they look at the call records or text messages on a smartphone used by this child. Other forms of monitoring like tracking the location of their child through GPS apps or software (33%) or friending or following their child on social media (28%) are far less common.4At the same time, more than half of parents of a child 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%) and 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.
More than half (56%) of parents who report having at least one minor child, but who may also have an adult child or children, say they spend too much time on their smartphone, while smaller shares say they spend too much time on social media (36%) or playing video games (11%).
A majority of parents also report that their phone can get in the way of spending quality time with their children. Roughly seven-in-ten parents (68%) say they are at least sometimes distracted by their smartphone, with 17% saying this happens often.
There are also differences by educational attainment: Parents with a college degree or higher (59%) or those with some college experience (60%) are more likely than those with a high school education or less (47%) to say they spend too much time on their smartphones. When it comes to feeling distracted by their mobile device, 75% of parents with a college degree say they are least sometimes distracted by their phone when they are spending time with their kids, compared with 68% who have some college experiences and 61% of those who have a high school education or less.
The livestreamed footage captured the unbearable anguish as parents rushed to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where deranged gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, was inside for up to an hour as he killed 19 kids and two teachers.
I too once had a bout with video game obsession when I was in my teen years. Things quickly got out of hand when extra weight started creeping up on me. Before I knew it I had become Obese. Now being a Certified Fitness Trainer I realized that my constant game playing was maintained by natural habit formations. As humans when we do things a certain amount of times out body's central nervous system adapts to whatever actions that we are doing to continue to be able to survive and keep the action going. Obviously, it is really hard to break a "bad" habit so I found that the most successful way was to introduce a "good habit". i.e. exercise. Before I started exercising I had pretty low self esteem about my body and knew in the back of my mind that I didn't look the way that I wanted. Think about it...even when playing with video game characters there is a reminder of what the ideal male or female should look like (of coarse it's exaggerated on games), wolverine, superman, batman, spiderman, they're all ripped! Finally, I started getting more and more engulfed with the progress that I was making in the real world with my weight and slowly I started dwindling down my game play times. For all the parents out there.....know this... Puberty will trump the obsession. What I mean by that is teen guys always want to go for the "cute" girls in school and want to impress their peers some kind of way. Let's be real they are still finding themselves in this period of life. The testosterone being a male starts to raging and most of the time if the male can change their appearance for the better for the opposite sex they will do that. With all this being said, these days I sat down and designed a program that holds the gamer's playing times accountable with exercises to do for the total amount of gameplay time to diffuse the unhealthy side effects that little activity can have on the gamer. The key thing is that I am not limiting the gamer but holding them accountable and they stay on track due to the reward system I have set up...(I give one member out of their gaming circle a free game). So out of say... 5 members of the gaming circle one of them will receive the reward but they all will get healthier and develop a positive lifestyle habit in the pursuit of the game. Parents have loved my program so far and have had success with it. I won't link my website or advertise here but I will give my name Drake Elliott Fitness