Parents Perspective

Screen-Addicted Kids: How Moms Deal

Young children are more plugged in than ever, according to a new Asurion/Parents survey. And while moms are managing kids' media use, they could be doing even more to protect them.

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Almost 55 days. 1,314 hours. That's how much time a typical child under 10 spends in front of a screen each year, according to a new online survey of 500 moms conducted by Parents and Asurion, which partners with wireless carriers and retailers to help customers quickly receive a replacement or repaired device, and provides support to set up and optimize your technology.

Parents partnered on the survey because we were curious how much time kids are really spending on smartphones, tablets, TVs, gaming systems, and computers (excluding homework)—and how concerned parents are about such heavy exposure. The answer on both fronts? A lot.

On average, kids log 217 minutes, or 3.6 hours, of screen time per day. (No wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics recently dropped its recommended two-hour screen limit for kids: It simply wasn't feeling realistic in the digital era.) Even with possible underreporting—did respondents really count double screen time when a kid was watching TV and playing on a tablet simultaneously?—that's a big number.

Plus, parents find limiting kids' use of devices is a huge challenge. When asked about tasks that are easier to get a child to do than stop using screens, respondents said: go to bed (29 percent), eat their veggies (26 percent), do their homework (25 percent), and be nice to siblings, do their chores, and clean their room (23 percent each). That's pretty telling about how much kids love their screens.

According to the study, moms are clearly concerned about digital addiction and other technology pitfalls: 60 percent worry about allowing too much screen time; 59 percent are anxious their kids could accidentally be exposed to or access inappropriate content; 40 percent fear their kids may be contacted or followed by strangers online; 28 percent suspect their children might make unauthorized purchases; and 25 percent think their children might use social media without permission.

Fortunately, most moms are being proactive about protecting their kids: 78 percent—including 85 percent of millennials—say they or another adult supervises most or all of their child's screen time. More than seven in 10 have password protection on their devices (and their partner's); 60 percent have set purchase authorization controls for apps and websites; and nearly six in 10 turn off location identification from social media when posting about their kids.

Still, parents could be doing better (and more). Less than half of moms surveyed said they have set up parental controls or filters on browsers to make sure their kids visit safe sites. The same is true for setting up screen time limits on devices (43 percent), disabling virtual public chatting within online games (42 percent), and setting up parental controls on Wi-Fi to control content (42 percent).

Many moms also admit they could use a little help managing their family's digital life, such as with setting up parental controls (42 percent), securing their Wi-Fi networks (38 percent), or securely managing and storing content in the cloud.

It's no surprise parenting in today's digital world is a sizable challenge. As with safeguarding our children's health, nutrition, and education, the monitoring, limiting, and protecting of their screen use is yet one more addition to our already endless to-do lists. Luckily, it seems most of us already have it marked down—and at least partially—checked off.

David Sparrow is a senior editor at Parents and a dad of two kids who have steered clear of online problems (so far).