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Monday, June 3, 2013

Most Parents Show Little Concern About Children’s Media Use, Survey Says

Do parents worry about the growing amount of time their children spend with media?

One new study suggests that most parents are largely unconcerned. And perhaps no wonder: Parents who show little concern about their children’s use of technology themselves spend big chunks of their leisure time with media.

The study, undertaken by the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University, was intended to look at how parents view technology â€" from television to smartphones to tablets â€" and how family life revolves around these devices.

The study’s co-author, Vicky Rideout, an independent researcher who over the last decade has done pioneering research into patterns of technology use, said she was surprised to find that 59 percent of the 2,300 parents surveyed were not worried that their children would become addicted to technology. About 38 percent did express such a worry.

But Ms. Rideout said the lack of concern among the majority of parents surveyed did not conform with what appears to be a popular sentiment, found in the media and among some researchers.

“We hear time and again about kids demanding more and more media devices and parents struggling to find ways to cope with it,” she said. “In reality, what we’ve discovered is that most parents of young kids aren’t concerned about media use.”

The survey also found that 78 percent of the parents in the survey did not report conflicts with their children over media use â€" meaning, the children aren’t begging while the parents grudgingly withhold.

Ms. Rideout was quick to note, however, that the parents who were less concerned about their children’s media use were themselves heavy technology users, to an extent that she said left her “totally shocked.”

Among those surveyed, parents in the families with heaviest media use, about 39 percent of families, consumed 11 hours of screen media in their leisure time â€" a figure that excludes print media and music. The figure of 11 hours double-counts time in which a parent was using two screens at once, say, watching television while using a computer to surf the Internet. In other words, an hour spent using both TV and a laptop at the same time counted as two hours of media-use time for purposes of the survey.

In households with more moderate use, about 45 percent of families, parents reported consuming five hours of screen media per day. In lighter-use households, representing 16 percent of families, parents consumed media less than two hours a day.

Research into the impact of heavy technology use on behavior and the brain is very much in its early stages. But some neuroscientists and doctors have expressed concern that heavy media use can have a number of deleterious effects, including on attention span and focus, and lead to a sedentary lifestyle.

The lead author on the new survey was Ellen Wartella, who leads the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern. Ms. Rideout, whose previous work at the Kaiser Family Foundation and at Common Sense Media was pioneering at showing explosive use of media among children, said she was also surprised in the current survey to find that parents were the ones who were introducing their children to technology, rather than children’s begging to use it in the first place.

“Parental decisions,” she said, “are what are driving the media use.”