It is no secret that most parents struggle with the decision of how to restrict their child’s screen time, if they even decide to place restrictions at all. Various research articles detail the possible harmful effects of unlimited screen time on young children, from behavioral and sleep problems to obesity and violent tendencies. Previous CivicScience research showed elevated screen time during the pandemic as well as concerns about the amount of screen time kids were getting. Where do parents stand now, as the pandemic’s lull comes into question and the first days of school loom in the future?

CivicScience asked more than 100,000 U.S. parents over the first half of 2021 whether they restrict their kids’ screen time or not, and the answers changed dramatically. Before the pandemic lockdowns, the majority of parents reported that they restricted their children’s screen time to some extent. At the height of the pandemic and before the roll-out of vaccines, parents who did not restrict their children’s screen time actually eclipsed those who did, and by more than ever seen before since the start of CivicScience surveying. This reached its peak in Q1 2021, when 52% of parents reported that they did not limit their kids’ screen time at all. 

In recent months, these numbers have normalized to pre-pandemic levels, perhaps attributed to increased vaccinations and the relaxation of several pandemic restrictions.

From a recent CivicScience poll, it can be seen that caps on screen time vary greatly among parents but tend toward permitting more rather than less. Forty-nine percent of children reportedly spend less than two hours per day staring at a screen, compared to 51% of children whose allowed screen time is three or more hours per day.

To better understand how screen time is being handled, CivicScience crossed the data by a series of situational factors. The annual income of U.S. parents may play a part in how they regulate their children’s screen time. Parents making between $50K and $100K per year are the most likely to say their children are getting three or more hours of screen time.

Roughly half (48%) of parents who have been working as usual during the last six months say they do not limit their kids’ screen time. This is the largest percentage of parents who report no screen time restrictions for their children. Parents who have been working remotely during the pandemic are the most likely to have rules like only getting screen time on the weekend, or only permitting screen time for educational purposes during the week.

The hours of screen time that kids are having per day can be a controversial topic, with many parents believing that their children’s time spent on digital devices should be heavily restricted, and others who take a much more relaxed approach. At this point in time, rules about screens seem to hinge on whether or not parents have the bandwidth to actually police a child’s interactions with phones, tablets, and TVs. Parents working remotely and with larger incomes (two data points that tend to correlate) have greater visibility into screen time habits and possibly a greater capacity to intervene.