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How to Protect Sleep, Attention, and Family Relationships

New research is a bit bleak when it comes to our success at managing our families' screen use (especially our own), but we can do better!

What do you do when your kids mess up? Do you tell them to give up and forget about accomplishing anything? Of course not. Failure breeds success; every parent knows that. When it comes to managing devices and limiting screen time, we parents need to take our own advice. According to Common Sense Media's latest research, The New Normal: Parent, Teens, Screens, and Sleep in the United States, we're slipping. The study polled 1,000 parents and teens to determine the impact of devices on family time, relationships, and sleep. Compared with a similar study conducted in 2016, parents say they spend too much time on their devices, are more distracted, and don't always model healthy digital habits. But if we embrace the kind of learn-from-your-mistakes attitude we try to instill in our kids, we can do a lot better.

If we were only hurting ourselves, it wouldn't matter so much. But The New Normal shows that our kids may be following our example, especially in key areas that affect health and relationships, such as using devices before (and during) bedtime and allowing them to distract us from really connecting. And we know it's bad for us: The number of parents who say they spend too much time on their mobile devices has increased by 23 points since 2016. Even worse, our kids think we're addicted! Thirty-eight percent of teens feel their parent is addicted to their mobile device, a 10-point increase since 2016.

Now for some good news. A lot of this device use happened during a time of unchecked technology expansion, where almost every kid under 8 in the United States has access to a mobile device and 89% of teens have their own smartphone. But we're entering a new era of pushback against companies whose business models are built on what industry critics call "the attention economy." Here are a few examples that indicate a tipping point may be just around the corner:

With this shift, it should be a little easier to redouble your efforts to rein things in. Focus your efforts on the most critical issues highlighted in the report to improve in the three areas that affect families the most: sleep, distraction, and relationships. If it helps, think of the advice you'd give your kids if they goofed up: Don't dwell on past mistakes, make slight adjustments to get better little by little, and celebrate your wins.

Guard bedtime like a mama bear. Do whatever it takes to make sure your kids are getting a good night's sleep. Try these tips or use these settings to turn off kids' phones at night.

Make screen-time rules. Figure out how much screen time is right for your family -- and stick to your rules.

Enable screen-limiting settings. iPhone users can set the features in Screen Time; Google users can download the Family Link app to control kids' phones.

Resist distractions. Learn a few easy hacks to make your phone less appealing.

Understand the tricks of the trade. Knowing how companies manipulate you and your kids into spending more time online can help you recognize when you're falling into their trap.

Train yourself to focus. Kids and parents can use these apps to practice concentrating, prepare for bed, and calm the mind.

Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.