As parents continue to struggle with their children’s use of smart phones and other technology, a new study from Common Sense Media shows just how intertwined tech has become in our lives: 68 percent of teens now keep their phones within reach at night, and nearly a third actually sleep with them in bed. More than a third wake up to check their phones in the middle of the night, with about half checking social media and others responding to notifications.
But teens are not alone in these unhealthy habits. Even greater numbers of parents – 74 percent – keep their phones in the bedroom overnight, and more than a quarter wake up to check them.
It’s an alarming trend that goes against most doctors’ advice on the importance of sleep, according to the San Francisco nonprofit, which surveyed 1,000 parents and youth between ages 12 and 18 nationwide as a follow-up to a similar study three years ago on device use and family attitudes around it.
The new study, “The New Normal: Parents, Teens, Screens and Sleep,” also shows that most teens and parents ignore the medical recommendation to stay off screens at least an hour before bed. Seventy percent of teens and 61 percent of parents check their mobile device within 30 minutes of going to sleep.
“Parents may feel that it’s too late to take back control once kids are so attached to their phones and tablets, but with studies linking poor sleep to a number of mental and physical health problems, as well as diminished academic and cognitive performance, I urge parents to consider these findings as a wake-up call that device use might truly impact the health of their children,” James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, writes in the report.
Recognizing the challenges parents face in regulating use of devices that are becoming ubiquitous – a previous study said 89 percent of teens have their own smart phone – and possibly addicting, Common Sense Media is also reaching out to industry and regulators and in a quest to seek better design and control of the technology that profoundly affects kids, teens and families.
At a conference the nonprofit sponsored in Mountain View this spring, a panel of teens from Dave Eggers’ 826 National writing program said none of them would let their younger selves use a smart phone. They have written about their experience as “digital natives” in a collection of essays called True Connections: Teen-to-Teen Advice About Social Media and the Digital World.
But the Common Sense Media study also highlights some dichotomies around how teens and parents view device use.
Nearly two-thirds of parents believe their children are addicted to their devices, about the same percentage as in 2016, but only 39 percent of teens say they are addicted, down 11 points. The number of kids who say they spend too much time on their devices dropped significantly, from 61 to 39 percent, while 68 percent of parents think their teens are on their device too much.
“As parents have gotten more concerned, children have moved in the opposite direction: They are less likely to say they spend too much time on their device and fewer feel addicted than a few years ago,” the report says.
The New Normal?
Researchers speculate that “digital natives” may just be more accepting of a “new normal” of frequent phone use and also that increasing negative press around social media and other device use may be impacting parents’ views.\
Interestingly, the percentage of kids who think their parents spend too much time on their device has increased, from 28 percent in 2016 to 39 percent today. And parents generally agree, with just over half saying they spend too much time on their phone, up from 29 percent three years ago.
Both sets of respondents note phones’ distraction factor, with 69 percent of parents saying their child is distracted at least once a day and 57 percent saying it happens multiple times each day. While teens themselves put the numbers lower, they’re still high: 58 percent say they’re distracted at least once daily and 42 percent multiple times.
“Yet (parents and teens) argue less about mobile devices than they did three years ago,” the study says. “Is this a reflection that people have resigned themselves to being distracted?”
While some of the statistics are eye opening, Common Sense Media recognizes there are no easy answers for families striving to strike a balance when it comes to device use.
“Finding a balanced approach to mobile device use takes effort, thought and practice,” the report concludes. “It is our hope that families come closer to achieving that balance, even as tech becomes more intertwined in our lives.”
Says Steyer: “If technology harms our health and relationships we need to change our ways, it’s as simple as that.”
To read the full report, visit commonsensemedia.org/research.
Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.