If you’ve felt like parenting today is much harder than it was when you were a kid, you’re not alone. Sixty-six percent of parents say that parenting in 2020 is harder than it was 20 years ago, with most saying that screen time is what is making things more difficult.
The Pew Research Center published a report asking parents about how they feel about screen time. The report, published at the end of July, surveyed parents of kids ages 5-11, between March 5th and 20th. That means it didn’t even account for the increase in screen time that many families saw after switching to remote learning — which many parents say has added to their stress.
Yet, even before remote learning, 71% of parents said that they’re worried that their kids are spending too much time on screens. The same number believed that using smartphones too often as a young child has more harm than benefits.
Many parents have found that navigating technology is making parenting harder today than it used to be. Three of the four top reasons that parents sighted for parenting being more difficult now than it used to be involved technology and social media.
For many parents, technology is a catch 22: they have reservations about using screen time, especially for young kids, but they also recognize that screen time is a tool that can give them a little break or let them get work done — something that’s become even more important with more kids home constantly during the pandemic.
The research reflected that. Despite the high number of parents who were worried that their kids are spending too much time on screens, 80% of parents said that their child uses a tablet. The older a child is, the more likely they are to spend time on screens, the data found.
Screens are nearly every-present in the lives of many parents, yet few of us feel like we have a good handle on how best to use them. Only 39% of parents said that they’re very confident that they know how much screen time their child should be having.
Still, a vast majority of parents — 86% — are setting limits on screen time for their children. Many parents — 80% — also say that they take away screen time as a consequence.
The researchers also found that parents are just worried about tech use among their kids — they’re also worried that they spend too much time on screens. Sometimes, that impacts parents. Sixty-eight percent of parents said that they sometimes feel distracted by their phones while they are parenting — most often by social media. This was most common among parents under 30, and least common among parents older than 50.
Many families are gearing up for a year that involves remote learning at least partially. That might cause parents to stress even more about the amount of time that their kids are spending on tablets. The important thing to remember is that interactive and educational screen time — like Zoom sessions with the teachers — are very different from passive screen time, social media or television.
“All screen use is not equal, especially at a time when other avenues of connection and learning are shut off,” Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media, told CNN.
To counterbalance time in front of a screen, encourage your kids to get moving, said Sonia Livingstone, a professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics.
“If your child has been running around all day and comes back and watches a film that takes over two hours or plays a computer game, they’ve been running around,” Livingstone said. “So the context is they’ve had their exercise, they can’t run the whole day…”
At the end of the day, she said that parents need to cut themselves a break during the pandemic.
“Quantity is way up, and I think it’s become really problematic for everyone to criticize themselves for that, because people are faced with the most extraordinary circumstances,” she said.