The last eight or nine months have been difficult for everyone. Pandemic restrictions have closed public places, seeing friends or family is difficult if not impossible, and everything else in between weighs on a scale of risk versus reward that everyone seems to have internalized by this time. But at the least, families have been spending more time together.  

A full forty-one percent of respondents report spending more active time with their families. This would fall in line with previous research CivicScience looked into regarding the popularity of toys, puzzles, and board games as holiday gifts this year. 

But this result isn’t necessarily surprising. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Most kids are managing online learning while their parents manage work in the next room over. Stepping away from a Zoom meeting to resolve a tech problem for a child is commonplace. And in the face of potentially increased or re-introduced pandemic restrictions in the coming weeks, a plurality of families don’t have a choice but to spend more time together. 

However, despite the increase in families reporting spending more active time together during the pandemic, it seems that the vast majority still enjoy their screens. 

Sixty-three percent of respondents report watching TV or movies as their favorite family activity at the end of the day. Which brings us to the issue of screen time. 

Screen Time

Despite the likely link between increased screen time and increased rates of depression in both adults and teens, increasing usage of computers, tablets, and phones is probably not going to go away any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean concern about screen time hasn’t gone up as well. More than half (55%) of adults are concerned with the amount of screen time their kids get every day. 

And that concern has only increased since the pandemic lockdowns. Forty-four percent of adults are more concerned now than prior to the pandemic about the amount of screen time their kids are getting.

In response to this concern, a lot of parents are taking an obvious step: limiting their kids’ screen time.

While just over a quarter of respondents (26%) don’t limit screen time at all, 34% report limiting it to 1 – 2 hours a day. Unsurprisingly, the amount of allowed screen time in a home may be linked to how many screens a household has.

Seventy-three percent of parents who don’t allow their children any screen time at all have between one and three screens in their homes. At the same time, 36% of parents who don’t have any limits on their children’s screen time report having more than 10 screens in their homes.

Regardless of the number of screens in a home, however, 73% of adults report that it is “very important” that their kids get breaks from their screens.

The dramatic shift in lifestyle and habits brought on by the pressures of the pandemic makes it difficult for families to regulate screen time usage among their children in a way they are satisfied with. Taking a look at parents limiting screen time over the last two years, we see a few interesting trends.

As it turns out, the frequency of limiting kids’ screen time was increasing up until the Fall of 2019, when just over half of adults reported limiting it to some extent each day. From that high point, the rate fell consistently until April of 2020 (when pandemic restrictions started in many areas) which saw a brief rise, before a free fall to 36% currently.

The data seems to indicate that outside of a brief increase of limiting screen time at the beginning of the pandemic, the concern parents have about their kids’ screen time hasn’t translated. In fact, limiting screen time is at the lowest point now than it has been in the last two years.

Active Family Time

And the data gets really interesting when we start to look at active (non-screen-related) time families spend together. 

More than a third of families (37%) prefer nature hikes and walks together above most other popular activities. And if we cross that data with popular family activities at the end of the day, we see that families that play board games together take nature walks together.

Sixty-one percent of respondents that prefer nature walks also tend to play board games together with their families, far more than the next closest response.

What Does All This Mean?

Well, if you’re concerned about the amount of time your kids spend on their screens, that probably isn’t going to change. But you’re not alone. Most parents have been concerned about screen time, but have been unable to do much about it during the restrictions brought on by the pandemic. 

Nature walks seem to be the most popular form of outdoor active family time away from screens. Perhaps the activity itself helps resolve some of the underlying anxiety over screens.  So, aside from stocking up on board games, as winter approaches, it might be time to buy solid outdoor gear to keep you and your family off those screens.