In the digital era, excessive screen time for children had already become a persistent and growing concern among American parents. And, perhaps predictably, new research shows the societal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only served to exaggerate the issue.
According to an August 2020 survey conducted by Morning Consult, added time spent at home in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19 has led to a significant increase in the time American children are spending on screened devices such as smartphones, computers and tablets. Of the 899 parents with children ages 17 and under polled in the August 13-15 survey, 60% said their kids’ screen time topped out at three hours per day before the pandemic set in. But for 70% of parents surveyed, screen time had jumped to four or more hours per day after the pandemic’s onset, according to the poll.
How kids are spending their on-screen time
The increased screen time was not all negative as parents were asked to include time spent on screen for schoolwork and other education-related tasks. But the leading on-screen time after the pandemic’s onset was reported to be games with 70% of all parents saying their children spent on-screen time pursuing the activity. Other leading on-screen activities reported in the survey included school and homework (with 58% of parents saying their children spent time on this), social media (49%), movies (46%), TV shows (43%), and chats and messaging (39%).
The survey also asked about the types of entertainment platforms the children were using most often on their screened devices. The leading response was YouTube with 62% of parents reporting their kids used the platform to access video or entertainment content. The rest of the top five responses included Netflix (55%), Disney+ (35%), Disney Channel (24%) and YouTube Kids (23%).
Parents’ acceptance of screen time also growing
As the time children are spending on screens is growing during the pandemic, the amount of screen time parents consider acceptable also appears to be growing, according to a separate Morning Consult survey. In a poll of 850 U.S. parents conducted August 21-23, 2020, 69% of those surveyed reported feeling their kids were getting an appropriate amount of recreational screen time with 77% saying the same regarding educational screen time. These numbers were up significantly from a survey asking the same questions in April 2020 when 53% of surveyed parents felt their kids were getting an appropriate amount of recreational screen time, and 60% said the same regarding educational screen time.
The same pair of polls indicated that parents are also growing more confident in their ability to regulate their kids’ screen time even as their children’s time on devices increases. According to the surveys, in August 2020, 72% of parents said they felt confident in their ability to judge the appropriate amount of recreational screen time for their kids compared with just 56% in April 2020. And in August 2020, 75% felt the same way regarding educational screen time compared with 59% in April.
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