A major study has found socioeconomic status has an outsize impact on the amount of screen-time kids consume.
The Common Sense Census survey of Media Use by Tweens and Teens looked at a nationally representative sample of of 1,600 US 8- to 18-year-olds to determine “their use of and relationship with” all types of media, from books and radio to online games and apps to virtual reality technology.
Among the findings that most surprised researchers was the strong negative correlation between screen-time and socioeconomic status. Translation: the higher a family’s income, the lower their children's screen-time.
Those from more affluent families - defined in this study as an annual household income of $100,000 plus - spent 6 hours and 49 minutes a day on screens, compared with 8 hours and 32 minutes for their less-well-off peers.
The effect was especially evident among tweens in higher-earning households. They used devices nearly two hours less than their lower-income peers.
Teens showed a similar pattern. Those from more affluent families - defined in this study as an annual household income of $100,000 plus - spent 6 hours and 49 minutes a day on screens, compared with 8 hours and 32 minutes for their less-well-off peers.
“We can’t say from the data in this report why this disparity occurs, or whether it has any effect on young people, either positive or negative,” the researchers said. “But we can affirm that this disparity does exist, and is fairly substantial.”
Wealth, knowledge and power
But when you stop to think about it, the finding makes sense. Income and education level are very highly correlated - and the more knowledgeable parents are in general, and about technology in particular, the more likely they will be to set firm boundaries around device use.
The most obvious example? The wealthy tech entrepreneurs who restrict their own kids from using the products and services they have developed - and that have made them billionaires.
Long-time Apple CEO and tech guru Steve Jobs famously told reporters his kids weren’t allowed to use iPads. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” he added.
Many of the top schools in Silicon Valley - quite possibly the planet’s ultimate prestige-belt postcode - minimise technology use in the classroom. As one parent, a former Google employee, explained, "We know at some point they will need to get their own phones, but we are prolonging it as long as possible."
Comments by Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of user growth at Facebook, put it even more bluntly: “I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that sh%t. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that sh%t... The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
Is screen-time the new smoking?
Some experts have begun to speculate about a more widespread backlash to device-dominated family life. They include Professor BJ Fogg of Stanford’s infamous Persuasive Technology Lab - the cradle of many of today’s most addictive apps - who recently tweeted:
“A movement to be ‘post digital’ will emerge in 2020. We will start to realise being chained to your phone is a low-status activity similar to smoking.”
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