As a parent and researcher, I’m concerned about the amount of time kids spend with screens. To understand why kids use screen media so much, we must first look to the people who have the most influence in the lives of kids–their parents.
In a 2015 study led by Dr. Alexis Lauricella at Northwestern University, a nationally representative sample of more than 2,300 parents of children ages 0-8 responded to a slew of questions about their attitudes toward media, demographic information, and their own and their children’s media use, all in effort to determine what factors help predict children’s media use. The strongest predictor of children’s television use was parents’ screen time. In fact, parent screen time, measured as the time parents spend with a variety of media devices, including TV, Internet, computers, tablet, smartphone, etc., predicted children’s time spent with TV, computers, smartphones, and tablets. The study also found that the more positive parents attitudes are about various media devices, the more time their kids spend with those devices.
So, this is where I need your help. As a media researcher I look at this study and the first thought that pops into my mind is that to change kids’ screen time we need to (1) change parents’ media habits and/or (2) change parents’ attitudes about media. But, I think that’s easier said than done. I’ve recently observed both on my own blog and on other parenting sites that the most-read articles are those telling parents that they’re doing a great job at parenting, but the less-read articles are those that are asking parents to make a change. Remember, I’m a parent too, and I likely add to this trend. I suppose I have several questions then:
- What keeps parents from changing their media habits? Is it a lack of knowledge about how their own habits affect their kids’ habits? Or is it something more?
- And once we know what these barriers are, what is the best way to overcome them? How do we convince parents to change their media-related attitudes and behaviors?
Which brings up the idea of parenting guilt. Do we read so much about how to become a good parent in the media that we’ve developed parenting guilt to the point that we simply avoid expert advice telling us that we need to change our parenting? And if so, is there a way to convince parents to make changes to their own media habits without instilling parenting guilt?
I suppose this post today is somewhat of a ramble, but today my mind is full of questions about how to help parents want to change. Until we get to the bottom of that question, I’m not sure we will really know how to change kids’ media habits. I’d love your thoughts on these questions. I hope to plan research to help address these questions, so this is a chance for you to help guide the development of research in this area.