How American Parents Have Handled limits on Screen Time Since the Start of the Coronavirus Pandemic
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American parents have generally removed limits on screen time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with many also curtailing the associated monitoring of media consumption among their children. Although some express concern about these decisions, others view technology and screen time as an opportunity for their children to gain self-sufficiency and remain connected amid social distancing requirements.

Volume / Frequency

  • A wide variety of parental surveys (e.g., K-12 US Parent Pulse Report, NortonLifeLock, SuperAwesome, Statista) highlight that parents across the country have generally reversed their stances on screen time limits due to the pandemic, thereby enabling a dramatic increase in media consumption by their young children and/or teenagers.
  • Perhaps most notably, the May 2020 K-12 US Parent Pulse Report by Connections Academy and Pearson found that while 77% of American parents had instituted “household rules about the use of technology” prior to the pandemic, a nearly equal amount (76%) suspended those rules and completely eliminated limits on screen time as a result of the pandemic.
  • Subsequent August 2020 surveys by NortonLifeLock and The Harris Poll confirmed these findings, by reporting that between 50% and 63% of US parents had abandoned some or all of their previous rules related to the volume and/or frequency of screen time.
  • NortonLifeLock and SuperAwesome added that the elimination of screen time limits has been particularly acute among working parents, because they are “forced to simultaneously balance child supervision and working at home.”
  • However, parents also generally believe that they must “accept certain risks” to ensure that their young children and teens are “entertained and occupied” amid the pandemic.
  • As a result, NortonLifeLock found the large majority (69%) of parents report that their children’s screen time has increased during the pandemic by an average of 1.5 hours or more per day on school-days, excluding screen time for school purposes.
  • Separate surveys from Statista in March 2020 and August 2020 confirm this marked increase, as detailed further below.

Before
During

Type of Content

  • Although any form of “screen time limits have effectively been out of the picture” for American families, industry experts (e.g., Nielsen, Children’s Hospital of Chicago) suggests that the relaxation of media consumption rules has been particularly common related to television and social media.
  • As early as April 2020, Nielsen reported that “stressed parents” are relying on television sets and other forms of video for “relief” in overseeing their young children and teens at home.
  • Subsequent September 2020 survey results from the Children’s Hospital of Chicago similarly found that American parents were especially lenient in their allowance of social media among children of all ages.
  • Specifically, a higher 80% of US parents have temporarily relaxed their rules for social media during the pandemic.

Level of Monitoring

  • In conjunction with relaxing rules, US adults have similarly allowed for an increase in unsupervised screen time among their young children and teenagers, per parental surveys (e.g., NortonLifeLock, ParentsTogether).
  • NortonLifeLock found that most (67%) of parents have increased their child’s unsupervised screen time.
  • In particular, ParentsToday reported that approximately 30% of American children are spending 4 or more hours of unsupervised time online.
  • While employed parents are more likely to report that they are allowing their children extra unsupervised screen time (71% vs 58%), there are a variety of other driving factors behind this shift.
  • For example, many suggest that unsupervised screen time has increased because they need to give their child or teenager a way to “connect with friends and family” (52%).
  • Additionally, 48% of parents feel like they have “no choice” but to accept apps or services for their children without reviewing/monitoring them because of their complexity.

Level of Concern

Concern

  • Additionally, NortonLifeLock found that 58% of US parents “feel guilty” about their children’s increased screen time during the pandemic, 60% are concerned that they can’t/aren’t doing enough to monitor their children’s online activity and 52% are embarrassed about the example they are setting by similarly spending more time on devices.
  • However, an increasing number of US parents (84%) now believe that technology and the media are enabling their children to become “more self-sufficient,” according to May 2020 reporting by Forbes.
  • In particular, the Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that almost half (46%) of parents are “more appreciative of social media’s role in their teen’s life, during quarantine,” as detailed further below.Monitoring

Differences between Teens and Children

  • Meanwhile, there appears to be very limited, publicly available research that points to any differences in how parents have changed their approach to screen time for younger children versus teenagers, or by demographic group.
  • The only credible research, provided within the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, suggests that parents may be allowing their teenagers slightly more freedom in their use of technology amid the pandemic.
  • Specifically, “older children” have been more likely during the pandemic to have greater access to and use of technology including social media, video and phone calls.
GLENN TREVOR
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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