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Common Sense Media Census Measures Plugged-In Parents

It's a family thing: How the media environment shapes kids' use -- and what we can do to make it better.

Everybody knows tweens and teens rack up lots of screen time. But what about parents? Common Sense Media's new report, The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens, finally provides some answers. In collaboration with the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University, we surveyed over 1,700 parents of children age 8 to 18 on their attitudes and concerns about their kids' -- and their own -- media use. We hope that taking an honest look at how parents use media and tech, how they manage and monitor their kids, and how they talk to kids about media will help us all raise media-savvy kids and good digital citizens.

READ THE FULL REPORT: The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens

The great news is that the report shows that parents are trying to be good digital role models and are overwhelmingly supportive of the positive benefits of media in their kids' lives. No, we're not perfect -- and the report reveals the tension between what we do and what we want our kids to do. But we're concerned about our kids, and most of us think we have a role in protecting them from online risks. Finally, the report suggests that when parents are aware of their kids' online activities, they're less likely to worry -- which is a great reason to be engaged with your kids' media. Here are some of the report's key findings:

Parents are avid media users, too! On any given day, parents of American tweens and teens average more than nine hours with screen media each day. Eighty-two percent of that time (almost eight hours) is devoted to personal screen media activities such as watching TV, social networking, and video gaming, with the rest used for work.

Parents believe they "walk the walk." In fact, 78 percent of all parents believe they are good media and technology role models for their children. Mothers are more likely than fathers to report this.

Many parents have concerns about their children's social media use and other online activities. For example, 43 percent of parents are worried about their children spending too much time online. A third of parents are concerned that technology use is hurting their children's sleep.

Parents keep tabs on kids' media use. Most parents said that monitoring their tweens' and teens' media use is important for their safety. Two-thirds of parents say that monitoring media use is more important than respecting kids' privacy. More than two in five parents check their children's devices and social media accounts "always" or "most of the time."

Hispanic parents are more aware and more concerned. Hispanic parents are more aware of their kids' media use and manage it more than black or white parents. They also indicated more concern about their children's online activities. For example, 60 percent of Hispanic parents were concerned about their children spending too much time online, as compared to 37 percent of white parents and 33 percent of black parents.

As the report reveals, parents face a number of challenges in the digital age. The sheer amount of media and tech in our lives makes it tough to monitor and manage our own use -- let alone our kids'. And though screen-time guidelines are helpful, there are no hard-and-fast rules about how much is OK and how much is "too much."

But amid these obstacles, parents' positive attitudes about the role of technology is a hopeful sign. We should build on this optimism by supporting uses of technology that foster academic and personal development. Role-modeling is a great start to promoting a healthy digital lifestyle, and parents can help establish good habits through family rituals like device-free dinners and media activities that strengthen relationships. Taking a hard look at the family media environment is an important step toward helping kids develop the digital citizenship skills they need to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.

Michael Robb

Michael Robb is head of research at Common Sense, overseeing the development and execution of a mission-aligned research program, overseeing multiple research projects on the roles of media and technology in children and families' lives. He has published research on the roles of media and technology in children's lives in a variety of academic journals, and his work has been featured in press outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR. Michael also has supervised community educational outreach efforts, helping parents and teachers make the most of quality children's programming. Michael received his B.A. from Tufts University, and M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from UC Riverside.


Michael lives in Connecticut with his wife, two sons, and dog, Charlie. His hobbies include hiking, cycling, racquetball, escape rooms, video games, and binge watching great TV shows. Since having kids, he's now perfecting the art of picking up toys, building obstacle courses with pillows, and napping. He and his wife force their children to listen to showtunes in the car.