UC study: Your kid's screen time might not be as problematic as you think

Child screen time ipad kid
Posted at 11:44 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 11:22:21-05

CINCINNATI — A newly published survey conducted by a University of Cincinnati professor shows more than 80% of "tween" parents say their kids’ usage of media increased during the pandemic. While it might not surprise anyone, the researcher behind the data says it should encourage parents to rethink their approach to screen time.

“The hours itself may not be as problematic or as concerning as thinking about what you’re using it for,” said Nancy Jennings, PhD and professor in UC’s School of Communication, Film and Media Studies.

Jennings' survey of 608 parents of 9- to13-year-olds found 83.7% of parents reported their child’s use of media increased during the first summer of the pandemic. It also showed 21.2% of parents purchased a new media device for their households during COVID-19.

“It’s definitely multifaceted,” Jennings said. “You’ve got to take the good with the bad when it comes to technology and digital media use.”

Amberley Village mother Leah Kattus admits it has not always been easy finding an appropriate media balance for her 10-year-old son Noah, even though the fifth-grader is often eager to play outside with his friends.

“You just try to do what’s best,” Kattus said. “There’s so many more [media] options these days that I think that’s when, as a parent, you just have to really set some ground rules and try to monitor it the best you can.”

Kattus said after Noah finishes his homework, he’s allowed to use his iPad to watch shows or play online video games with his friends. Noah is quick to point out the social aspect of gaming and how he uses Messenger Kids, a kid-friendly texting app from Facebook, to stay in touch with his friends.

“There’s my BFF,” Noah said while on the app. “I’ve known him since kindergarten. There’s my mom, dad, one of my other friends.”

Jennings said this kind of media usage could actually have positive impacts for children Noah’s age.

“There are definitely positives that can come out of that kind of use,” she said. “Are you using it in a pro-social way? Are you using it in a positive way? Are you using it for educational purposes?”

Jennings also points out that media use can be a fun and effective way to provide a distraction from the stress of living in a pandemic. Social media apps helped provide those valuable social connections for children when face-to-face hangouts with friends could not happen because of COVID-19.

“You couldn’t go outside, you couldn’t meet face-to-face, but you could meet online,” Jennings said.

“I see who he’s speaking to,” Kattus said. “I let him speak to who I think is appropriate, so at times he has his friends, but he also has some aunts and uncles, some of my best friends, his older brothers.”

Still, Jennings said, parents should keep an eye on how their children are using media — particularly when it comes to some social media platforms.

“On the other hand, parents should carefully consider how their child will use the platform and what rules to establish with their tween about social media use,” Jennings said. “[Researchers] need to take a deeper look at our kids’ media use and move beyond the sheer quantity of time spent with media.”

Despite many social media sites having policies that do not allow children under the age of 13 to create accounts, Jennings said it is easy enough for some kids to get by. She said 19.5% of parents reported in her survey that they created a social media account for their child, with TikTok, Facebook Messenger and Instagram as the most popular platforms.

“As tweens are getting into social media and starting to open their own accounts, it’s important to be open and to be able to talk to your tweens about what they’re experiencing, what they’re seeing,” Jennings said. “That they feel comfortable coming to their parents if they run into problems.”

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