With the multitude of options and access most American kids have to technology and media both at home and at school —tv shows, videos, games, social media— it can be a challenge to restrict the amount of time they’re spending online. Apple, Google For Families, Google Play, and other 3rd party apps are available for parents to set limits on and monitor screen time for their kids on different devices. But the question is how many people think screen time for kids should be limited? Research from CivicScience shows that the majority of children in the U.S. have new smartphones or tablets compared to used, hand-me-down devices — another indicator that screen time is on the rise. How much time are kids actually spending online and how much of it has to do with their parents?

Apparently, opinions on restricting children’s screen time change when you become a parent.

Parents are actually less likely to think that kids’ screen time should be ‘very restricted’. Turns out, they’re more likely to have a moderate approach and say screen time should only be “somewhat restricted.” Of course, that can mean different things to different people, but until you become a parent, the balance of screen time and other activities becomes more visible. These results show current “non-parents” may change their tune when they have kids of their own.

Taking it a step further, CivicScience polled over 800 U.S. parents on how much screen time their kids have – accounting for time spent doing homework. Among just U.S. parents, half say their kids’ screen time ranges between 1-2 hours a day while roughly 1/4th say 3-4 hours.

Meaning, the majority (76%) of the country’s youth population spends between 1-4 hours online each day.  

Restricting screen time can mean different things depending on the parent and a few factors – how old your children are, what media children have access to, and the parents’ own media consumption habits and opinions.

Screen time restrictions differ by age

When comparing the amount of screen time with the age of children, the picture of which ages are driving these percentages becomes more clear.

Screen time definitely increases with age, but the biggest increase seems to happen with 6-11-year-olds and even more so with 12-17-year-olds with over 50% spending 3+ hours online every day. Middle and high school aged kids, however, are likely using more technology at school and have more access to video games, TV, streaming subscriptions, social media/texting at home – making them more susceptible to spending time online.

Parental influence makes a difference 

We know that socially, parents’ behaviors and opinions can have an impact on their children’s own behaviors. And that seems to hold true for media consumption and screen time – children in the U.S. are being impacted by their parents’ own relationships with technology and media.   

Heavy social media user parents (2+ hours) are more likely to say their kids have more screen time each day (3+ hours). Parents who are on social media for less than 1 hour or not at all are more likely to have kids who use screens for less than an hour (than on the longer end — 3+ hours).

The same thing is true for TV watching – parents’ television habits also align with how often their children are online. Children who use screens for less than an hour per day are more likely to have parents who spend less than an hour each day watching TV (than kids who use screens for 3+ hours more per day).

This data begs the question — Are children naturally taking after their parents when it comes to their own everyday habits? Or is the conscious lack of screen time limits (or enforced restriction of them) for both parents and children driving households as a whole to be more plugged in?

Online privacy and security

Another contributing factor of how parents decide to limit screen time for their kids could boil down to their opinions and views of privacy and security online. The amount of trust parents have in companies in the tech space is clearly at play when they make decisions surrounding how their children interact with the digital world.  

It seems that the more parents trust tech companies like Google and Apple when it comes to data security and privacy, the more likely they are to be lax with how much screen time their kids have. Kids who have parents with high or medium trust in tech companies are more likely to have screen time for 3 or more hours per day.

The screen time debate isn’t one that will disappear from the discussion any time soon – especially as kids are being exposed to technology at younger ages. We’ll track changes in how parents control screen time to find which industries and sectors could become most affected.