7 Out of 10 Parents Say Their Kids' Screen Time Has Soared—But It's Getting Families Through This Pandemic

If you've been leaning more on devices than ever, you're not alone, according to findings from a new survey.

Kids playing with modern mobile devices
Photo: Imgorthand/Getty Images

When COVID-19 began spreading this past spring, everything from school to happy hour to workouts and office meetings moved online while families found solace in bingeing their favorite shows and movies on an array of streaming platforms. Six months in, screen time has skyrocketed for everyone, which has left some parents concerned about straying so far from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)'s recommendations. But, judging from a new survey from NortonLifeLock, parents should take heart that they're not alone—and screen time may very well be the thing that's helping everyone get through the pandemic.

What the Survey Found

Partnering with The Harris Poll, the consumer cyber safety company interviewed more than 1,000 U.S. parents of children ages 5-17 in early August. Given that parents want to ​​encourage their children to develop healthy media use habits that involve limits on screen time, the NortonLifeLock survey makes it clear that most families have been in the same boat during this crisis.

Their most eye-opening findings include:

Screen time is up 1.5 hours a day: Kids are spending roughly 1.5 more hours in front of screens per day on school days, excluding time spent for school purposes, which makes for a 52 percent jump in screen time compared to pre-pandemic.

Parents are letting rules go: Nearly 2 in 3 parents (63 percent) said they've lowered their standards for appropriate screen time, and 49 percent of parents say they've had to abandon some, if not all, of their previous rules for screen time.

Parents acknowledge the increased reliance on devices, but have good cause: Nearly 7 out of 10 parents (69 percent) said their child's screen time has soared during the pandemic, but 3 in 5 (60 percent) say they feel like they have no choice but to allow it. Seventy percent said screen time keeps their child entertained and occupied, while 52 percent feel it's a way for them to connect with friends and family.

The pandemic has led some families to invest in even more devices: Around 3 in 10 parents have purchased a device—tablet (33 percent), gaming console (31 percent), smartphone (30 percent) or laptop/PC (26 percent)—for their child during the pandemic.

The risks are worth the benefits: More than half (57 percent) said they accept certain risks to their child's online safety to keep them entertained and occupied.

More than half of parents are feeling guilty: Regardless of employment status, nearly 3 in 5 parents (58 percent) feel guilty about the amount of time their child spends online.

But the AAP Says Not to Feel Guilty

The AAP released a statement in March to reassure parents that their thinking on children's device use has shifted in light of this extraordinarily stressful time. "As families adjust to this situation, the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences, which help families connect emotionally, process difficult experiences, and heal," the organization noted. "While limits are still important, under these stressful circumstances, kids' screen media use will likely increase."

The decision to not offer new, pandemic-specific time limit recommendations was a deliberate one. Dr. Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and media at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, "We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard. There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don’t be on it all day.”

Parents should instead be focusing on ensuring that kids' media use is positive and helps the family and community, according to the AAP. They offer tips, such as talking through daily structure and stress management techniques, communicating with teachers about educational online and offline activities for kids, and finding relaxing offline activities for the whole family.

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