Two-thirds of parents clueless about kids' screen-time

New research finds two out of three parents are seriously misjudging the amount of time their young children spend online.

When your GP asks you how many standard drinks you consume in a day, how reliable is your answer? Experienced practitioners admit they accept whatever number a patient provides - and then double it.

Many parents’ estimates of young kids’ screen-time is similar, a new study suggests. 

Guesswork v. data

It found two out of three parents were relying on guesswork to know how much time their kids spent on devices - and those guesses were way off the mark.

The research, published recently in the journal Pediatrics, tracked mobile device use among children aged 3 to 5 over nine months and compared their findings with parents' estimates of their use.

Children who owned their own smartphones or tablets - more than a third of those studied - averaged two hours of screen-time daily. (Previous students have found as many as 75% of preschoolers have their own tablet.) 

Television-viewing was excluded from this study.

Fifteen percent of kids were spending more than four hours a day on mobile devices. And a few were using them  far into the night, as late as 3 or 4 am, usually on YouTube. 

Fifteen percent were spending more than four hours a day with screens. And a few were using their mobile devices far into the night, as late as 3 or 4 am, usually on YouTube. 

Only a third of parents estimated their child’s average screen-time accurately. Another  37% thought their kids were spending less time than they actually were - while an almost equal number overestimated the time they spent online.

The average error was 70 minutes.

The researchers used a specially developed app to passively track device use among 350 preschoolers for a nine-month period between 2018 and 2019. This data was then compared to parents’ estimates.

Risky content

Many mums and dads were also unaware of the content their children were accessing.

Some children were using as many as 85 apps, with YouTube, YouTube Kids, browsers, the device camera, and Netflix among the most common.


But in other cases these preschoolers were consuming vast quantities of risky and age-inappropriate content, including gambling sites and violent games. 

Children were also freely accessing games that were collecting personal data for sale to third-party advertisers.

How kids use screens

Up to now, it’s been difficult to measure children’s screen-time, both because of parents’ flawed perceptions  but also because of the way kids use screens.

“Mobile technology is used on demand, sometimes in small bursts through the day and takes us to this immersive place. Those features may make it more difficult to track how much time we’re spending on them compared to watching TV for example,” says lead author Dr. Jenny Radesky, a behavioral pediatrician at Michigan Medicine's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. 

“We found that electronic data collection better reflects the complex ways modern media are used because we can learn details about nuances, such as content and time of day devices are used.

“The more meaningful the data, the better we can understand how digital technology is impacting children’s growth and development.”


Q: When's the right time to start using parental controls?

A: The moment your child is handed a mobile device.

Block adult content and manage screen-time with Family Zone, Australia's leading parental control. Start your free trial today!



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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety

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