Parenting has never been an easy task. However, the widespread use of smartphones and the rise of social media have added a new wrinkle to the difficulties of parenthood. In fact, a majority of parents in the United States (66%) say parenting is more difficult today than it was 20 years ago. This includes those who have at least one child under the age of 18, but may also have an adult child or children. Screen time is one of the most hotly debated topics among parents these days. What is the limit? And how will screens affect children’s development? In the midst of these mounting concerns, the World Health Organization issued guidelines last year on how much time young children should spend in front of screens.
YouTube has emerged as an important platform for both young and old children. 89% of parents with children aged 5 to 11 say their child watches YouTube videos, as do 81% of those with children aged 3 to 4 and 57% of those with children aged 2 or younger. While the majority of parents whose children use YouTube praise the platform for entertaining and educating their children, the majority of these parents are concerned that their child will be exposed to inappropriate content on the video sharing site. However, the debate over screen time is not limited to children. Parents must deal with their own device distractions. When asked if they spend too much, too little, or not enough time on their phone, more than half of parents (56%) say they do, while nearly seven-in-ten (68%) say they are at least occasionally distracted by their phone when spending time with their children. These findings are based on an online survey of 3,640 U.S. parents with at least one child under the age of 18, but who may also have adult children, conducted March 2-15, 2020.
Many parents blame technology for making parenting more difficult today than in the past
When asked if parenting is harder, easier, or about the same as it was 20 years ago, a larger share of parents (66%) – including those with at least one child under the age of 18 – say it is harder today. Meanwhile, only 7% believe it is easier, while 26% believe it is roughly the same as it was two decades ago. When compared to the past, parents across demographic groups are more likely to say that parenting today is more difficult rather than easier, but there are some minor differences by age. Parenting is more difficult for seven out of ten parents aged 50 and older (71%), compared to 66% of 30- to 49-year-old parents and 60% of those aged 18 to 29. Parents cite a variety of reasons why they believe parenting has become more difficult over time. The impact of digital technology (26%), the rise of social media (21%), and how access to technology exposes children to things at a young age (14%), are some of the most common responses. Changes in morals are another frequently cited reason for parenting becoming more difficult.
Parents are concerned about the impact of mobile devices, and few believe that children under the age of 12 should have their own smartphone.
With so many children having access to mobile devices, one of the questions that parents and experts alike are asking is when it is acceptable for children to have their own smartphone or tablet computer. In the eyes of parents, the ages of 12 to 14 appear to be a significant milestone for smartphones. Some 45% believe smartphone ownership is acceptable for children aged 12 to 14, and 28% believe it is acceptable for children aged 15 to 17. Only 22% believe it is acceptable for a child under the age of 12 to have one. When asked what age is appropriate for a child to have their own tablet, parents are more open to children having one at a younger age. 65% of parents believe it is appropriate for their child to have their own tablet computer before the age of 12. Parents who have at least one minor child but may also have adult children weighed in on whether they thought young children’s use of smartphones would help or hurt their ability to do things like develop healthy friendships or do well in school. Parents are concerned about the impact smartphones may have on their children’s social skills. Fully 71% of parents believe that using smartphones by children aged 11 or younger will have a significant or minor impact on their ability to learn effective social skills, and a similar share believes the same about developing healthy friendships. Just over half of parents believe these devices will harm their children’s ability to perform well in school, while parents are more evenly divided on how smartphones will affect their children’s ability to be creative or pursue hobbies and interests.
Parents’ struggles and experiences with smartphones and social media are diverse
Parents acknowledge that, in addition to monitoring their children’s screen time and use of digital devices, their own phones have resulted in distracted parenting. More than half (56%) of parents who report having at least one minor child but may also have an adult child or children say they spend too much time on their smartphone, while smaller shares say they spend too much time on social media (36%), and 11% say they spend too much time playing video games. There are also educational attainment differences: Parents with a college degree or higher (59%) or some college experience (60%) are more likely to say they spend too much time on their smartphones than those with a high school education or less (47%). When it comes to being distracted by their mobile device, 75% of parents with a college degree say they are least occasionally distracted by their phone when spending time with their children, compared to 68% of those with some college experience and 61% of those with a high school education or less.