Key Research

Parenting Children In the Age of Screens

Key Takeaways: 

  • 66% of parents say that parenting is harder today than it was 20 years ago
  • YouTube is the most prevalent platform that parents noted
  • Parents are concerned with development of social skills for their kids


LiveMore ScreenLess’ Summary

When the question of why parenting is harder today than 20 years ago, some of the most common responses tend to stress the impact of digital technology (26%), the rise of social media (21%) and how access to technology exposes children to things at a young age (14%). Other commonly cited reasons include changing morals, values, and the costs associated with raising a child.

Fully 71% of parents say the use of smartphones by children age 11 or younger will hurt their ability to learn effective social skills, with a similar share concerned about developing healthy friendships. Just over half of parents think these devices will hurt children’s ability to do well in school, while they are more evenly split when it comes to how smartphones will impact children’s ability to be creative or pursue their hobbies and interests. The age of 12 seems to be when it is acceptable for children to have their own phone, with 73% of parents agreeing to that.  

Majorities of parents say they are at least somewhat concerned about their child ever being the target of online predators, accessing sexually explicit content, accessing violent content online or ever being bullied or harassed online. The majority of parents of a child age 11 or younger (84%) say they are somewhat or very confident in their ability to know how much screen time is appropriate for their young children – with four-in-ten (39%) saying they are very confident. Fully 86% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say they limit the time of day or length of time their child can use screens, while eight-in-ten say they take away their child’s smartphone or internet privileges as punishment. 

YouTube has emerged as a key platform for both younger and older kids. Fully 89% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say their child watches videos on YouTube, as do 81% of those who have a child age 3 to 4 and 57% of those who have a child age 2 or younger.

Users of YouTube vary significantly by race and ethnicity. Black (50%) or Hispanic parents (40%) who have a child 11 or younger who watches YouTube are more likely to say their child does this several times a day, compared with white parents (29%). Fully 97% of parents whose child watches videos on YouTube say it keeps their child entertained, 88% believe it helps them learn new things, while 75% say the platform exposes their child to different cultures. Some 46% say their child age 11 and younger who watches YouTube videos has encountered videos that were inappropriate for their age. Roughly one-third of parents of a child age 11 or younger (36%) say their child uses or interacts with a voice-activated assistant such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon Alexa.

Parents themselves also report spending too much time on their own devices. Parents under the age of 50 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to say they often or sometimes feel distracted by their smartphone when spending time with their children (70% vs. 55%)

Brooke Auxier, Monica Anderson, Andrew Perrin, and Erica Turner. Parenting Children in the Age of Screens. Pew Research Center, 2020

Topics: Parenting , Screen Time

Year: 2020

Hosting University: Pew Research Center

Participants: 3,640 U.S. parents who have at least one child under the age of 18, but who may also have adult children
Data Collection:  self-administered web surveys