The kids are all right. But the parents?
Since 2016, adults have grown much more concerned about the time they spend on mobile devices even as their teenage children have grown far less worried about their own use, according to a new report from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit children’s advocacy and media ratings organization.
“If you’re concerned about your own device use, which an increasing number of parents are, then you ought to be able to impart that wisdom to your kids,” said James P. Steyer, the organization’s chief executive. “That’s your job.”
The report, released on Wednesday and based on surveys of 500 pairs of parents and teenagers, found that both groups have a complicated relationship with the devices — and, of course, with each other.
Most parents worry that their kids are addicted to the devices, but about four in 10 teenagers have the same concern about their parents.
Here are a few of the report’s key findings:
Bleary-eyed moms, dads and teenagers are everywhere.
The findings that Mr. Steyer and the report’s author, Michael Robb, said were most worrying related to how parents and teenagers allow mobile devices to interfere with sleep.
“That’s important because we know that healthy sleep is associated with a range of positive outcomes and poor sleep is related to a range of negative outcomes,” said Mr. Robb, the senior director of research for Common Sense Media.
According to the survey, conducted online and by phone in February and March, 26 percent of parents said they used a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, within five minutes of going to sleep. The same share acknowledged waking up to check the device at least once during the night, while a slightly smaller share, 23 percent, said they used a device within five minutes of waking up.
The rates were higher among teenagers: 40 percent said they used a device within five minutes of going to sleep; 36 percent admitted to waking up to check a device; and 32 percent said they used a device within five minutes of waking up.
“It’s a huge wake-up call,” said Mr. Steyer, who, along with his wife and four children, sleeps with his phone in a separate room.
Teenagers were more than twice as likely as adults to sleep with a phone in bed, the study found, with 29 percent of teenagers and 12 percent of adults admitting to the practice.
The survey findings were adjusted to mirror the demographics of the actual population of parents with teenagers. The margin of error was about 4.4 percent.
But their worries are different.
Curiously, Common Sense Media found that while parents feel increasingly glued to their phones, attitudes among teenagers moved in the opposite direction.
“It’s interesting and it’s unexpected,” Mr. Robb said.
This year, for example, 52 percent of parents said they spent too much time on mobile devices, nearly twice as many as in 2016. Among teenagers, only 39 percent said they spent too much time on the devices, a steep decline from 61 percent.
The share of parents who felt “addicted” to their devices rose to 45 percent from 27 percent, while the share of teenagers who said the same fell to 39 percent from 50 percent.
It wasn’t clear why attitudes among parents and teenagers diverged, but Mr. Robb offered some theories.
Parents, he said, may be internalizing widespread news coverage of the repercussions of smartphone use. Children, on the other hand, may be suffering from normalization as fewer and fewer teenagers remember a time before such devices were ubiquitous.
When it comes to actual use, though, both groups seem to have converged: Among parents, 42 percent said they checked their devices a few times an hour, while 43 percent of teens said the same.
Everyone is arguing less. (After all, there are more Facebook and TikTok posts to scroll through.)
One of the strangest findings of the survey, according to Mr. Robb, was that parents and teenagers were more worried about each other’s use, yet arguing about it less.
Today, about four in 10 teenagers believe their parents are addicted to or spend too much time on their mobile devices, the survey found. Among parents, six in 10 worry about their children being addicted to their phones and seven in 10 say their children spend too much time on the devices.
For both groups, though, the share who reported arguing daily over how the other uses mobile devices fell from about a third to about a fifth.
“Both kids and parents are arguing less, but at the same time they are feeling that the other is more distracted,” Mr. Robb said. “It’s a really weird finding.”
It isn’t clear why families are arguing less about device use, but Mr. Robb and Mr. Steyer said it might be caused by apathy or resignation over the hold mobile devices have.
There is some hope, though: About two-thirds of parents said they had family rules governing the use of mobile devices, according to the survey findings.
“We’ve been saying for years at Common Sense that you need to have ‘sacred spaces,’” Mr. Steyer said. “There are times and places where phones, in particular, but all digital platforms should not be there. The bedroom is the obvious one.”