Is Your Family Using Technology Wisely?

Not long ago, a search engine company called ReportLinker surveyed 670 families with children under fifteen to better understand the relationship between American kids and their devices. The results are a snapshot of how technology has been integrated into American families.

In many ways, parents are following recommendations from experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics.  But in a few key areas, parents seem to be ignoring best practice 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 as well as recommendations from AAP.

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

Just over three quarters of the families had at least one smartphone in the household, and 62% of parents said their kids spent 3 to 5 hours a day using a smartphone. The average age when kids get their own phone is 13 and a half.

For computing, families are more likely to use laptops (78%) than desktops (63%). The researchers also noted that among families with kids under ten, tablets are very popular – 58% of children under 5 use them–and they may eventually rival television as the device of choice.

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 the families with five or more devices allow kids to have one in the bedroom and, not surprisingly, those kids are more likely to use devices before they sleep.

How many hours per day do your kids interact with technology?  Having more devices in the household also increased the amount of time kids spend with technology.  Half the parents said they limit “plug in” time to less than two hours a day, but that rule is more likely to be 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.  They also point out that parents must be sure technology doesn’t squeeze out other healthy activities including sleep, physical play and time away from media.

When do your kids use technology? Over 80% of families said kids used devices during their spare time; only 6% allowed 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 argue about whether technology is changing childhood, but three quarters of parents believe devices are good for kids.  Half say technology creates more benefits than risks, and 25% believe being comfortable with technology is essential for kids in the 21st century.  For the 25% who feel technology has a negative impact on children, 11% believe technology creates more harms than benefits and 14% feel that technology “ruins the essence of childhood.”

What are the main disadvantages of using tech devices?  Twenty percent of parents couldn’t think of any disadvantages. A third worried that technology kept children from more traditional childhood activities such as playing, going outside or reading. Thirty one percent were concerned that time with devices made kids more isolated and less social. Only 10 percent worried about kids being less creative and 4% were 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% felt technology promotes cognitive development and school readiness.  About a quarter agreed 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% 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.

Do your children manage their own tech time?  Over half of parents (58%) believe their kids can manage their own time on electronic devices. Ironically, in the households where children use screens more than five hours a day, 43% of parents think kids are doing a perfectly good job of time management.  On the other hand, if you sometimes find it difficult to manage screen time, you’re not alone; 42% of parents admitted they feel the same way.

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. Eighty three percent say they keep an eye on what kids watch, and 71% 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 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 looking for Media Plan at healthychildren.org. 

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing the Growing Up Online column for ten year. She is also the author of Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart. Available at Amazon and Cooperative Wisdom.org.  @ Copyright, 2017, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.

Carolyn Jabs

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for ten years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. Visit www.growing-up-online.com to read other columns. @ Copyright, 2016, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.

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