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Parents Are Bad Examples When It Comes to Policing Screen Time

Photograph by Twenty20

If you’re ever felt as guilty as I do because you’re constantly glued to a phone, tablet or TV even while taking care of the kids, then maybe you can take a little comfort in know that you’re not completely alone.

American parents admit to spending more than nine hours a day glued to screens, the same “astounding” amount as teenagers, according to survey results reported by NBC News. Not only is most of that time (seven hours or more) spent outside of whatever screen obligations we have for work, but almost eight hours of screen time is devoted to entertainment media.

The surprising results come from Common Sense Media, based on a national survey of nearly 1,800 parents of kids ages 8 to 18. Although parents aim to be role models to their kids, especially in terms of the overconsumption of media, it seems that we’re actually no different.

"I think it shows us that, just like our kids, American parents live in a 24/7 world of media and technology,” James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, told NBC News.

The first-of-its-kind study found that while parents themselves spend a total of nine hours and 22 minutes a day with screen media, 78 percent of of parents believe that they are good role models for their kids in terms of their media use.

However, that doesn’t mean that parents aren’t concerned about their kid’s use of screens. The survey found that 56 percent of parents think that their children may become addicted to technology and 34 percent believe that technology use may negatively affect their children’s sleep.

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"So there's a pretty big disconnect there. You could even say it's a little hypocritical," Steyer says. "How can you be a good role model for your kids if you yourself don't find the appropriate balance in terms of media and tech use in your own life?"

But that’s not the full story. Screen time in families also varies by demographic, socio-economic status and education levels.

The survey found that while African-American families spend 10 hours and 37 minutes on screen time, Hispanic parents spend eight hours and 52 minutes with screens. White parents spend six hours and 38 minutes on their screen media.

Beyond that, lower-income parents spend more time with screens than middle-income and higher-income parents, at nine hours and 15 minutes versus seven hours and 42 minutes and six hours and 41 minutes, respectively. Meanwhile, parents with higher education (meaning an undergraduate degree or higher) also spent less screen time (six hours and 10 minutes) than their less-educated counterparts.

Comparatively, parents with a high school degree or less spend nine hours and three minutes with personal screen media and parents with at least some college education spend seven hours and 41 minutes with screens.

The news is certainly shocking, yes. What does it all mean?

"It's a wake-up call to every parent out there about how to role model this kind of behavior for our kids—how to set healthy balances,” Steyer says.

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But the news is also not all bad. In fact, parents have a mostly “positive attitude about the role of technology in their children’s education, learning and development of important skills,” according to survey findings.

And as for whether we’re all failing horribly at home, I don’t think so. Although I am just as guilty as the next person of constantly having my phone near me at all times, there's a simpler solution to finding that healthy screen balance all parents want. It begins with putting down the phone and tablet and turning off the TV at dinnertime.

"Studies make it clear that families that have good mealtime conversations and take the time to unwind at the end of the day or to have breakfast and lunch on the weekends together,” Steyer added. “It's incredibly important, not just family time and bonding time but for educational achievement and other really positive indicators of family success.”

So if you’re guilty of spending just as much time with your screens as your kids, or simply want to cut down on family screen time altogether, start at home.

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