Having grown up with gadgets galore, young parents aren't as worried about
the potentially corrosive effects of too much screen time on their offspring, a
new study suggests.
Surveying more than 2 300 parents of children up to age eight, researchers from
Northwestern University found that the vast majority - 78% - report that their
children's media use is not a source of family conflict, and 59% said they
aren't concerned their kids will become addicted to new media.
"We asked parents what their challenges were as the parents of young children
and sometimes media was never mentioned," said study author Ellen Wartella,
director of Northwestern's Center on Media and Human Development. "Parents of
children this age are concerned about their health, safety, nutrition and
exercise, and media concerns are much lower down the list. That was a
How the study was done
Wartella and her team identified three different types of media environments
parents create: media-centric (39% of families), media-moderate (45%) and
media-light (16%). In media-centric homes, children spend three hours more each
day with screen media such as TVs, computers and tablets than those in
The notion that parents are apt to shush their kids by handing them a
smartphone or tablet also appears to be false, according to results. To keep
their children quietly occupied, moms and dads said they were more apt to turn
to toys or activities (88%), books (79%) or TV (78%). Of parents with
smartphones or iPads, only 37% reported being somewhat or very likely to turn to
"Given all I've seen in the popular press, the newfangled technologies of
smartphones and tablets would be the go-to tools but we didn't find that," said
Wartella, also a professor of psychology and of human development and social
policy. In fact, when they were in a restaurant or the car and they needed to
calm a child, parents reported they were more likely to turn to the
tried-and-true, such as soft, plush toys and colouring books.
"What's compelling is we certainly have a generation of parents now who grew
up with technology, and it's very much a part of everyday life for these
families," she added. "There are different styles of use, and parenting styles
set the agenda and help influence children's styles."
What is concerning to parents, according to the survey, was the negative
impact screen time has on kids' physical activity levels. More than 60% said
video games result in less movement by their children, with similar proportions
saying the same about TV, computers and mobile devices.
Dr Roya Samuels, a paediatrician at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's
Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park, said paediatricians as a whole
worry about the stationary nature of media use, which is reflected in exploding
childhood obesity rates.
"The main contributing factor is the rise of technology, and children are
spending a good amount of time behind screens instead of outdoors playing or
indoors just moving around," Samuels said. "Another thing that ties into this is
that it's really important for children to be active learners, not passive
learners, and a lot of this screen time is really not an active way of engaging
in their own education."
But, given the potential pitfalls, media use still offers many "wonderful
benefits" to children, Samuels added, though it shouldn't encroach on one-on-one
"It's much more difficult for parents to find the quiet moments to pass on
life lessons and share quality time with their kids," she said. "Everywhere they
turn, there's a tablet, a computer, an iPhone or a handheld device luring them
away from what used to be the main arena where children would learn lessons in
the family home."
The US National Library of Medicine offers more on children
and screen time.