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If kids are addicted to smartphones, tech gizmos, so are parents

If schools hope to enlist parents in prying students away from smartphones and computers, they’re going to have to unplug mom and dad first.

It won’t be easy because adolescents and teens aren’t the only ones with a strong attachment to media and technology.

Parents spend more than nine hours a day watching television, movies and videos, playing video games, listening to music, using social media, reading either print or electronic books and using digital devices for other purposes such as browsing websites and playing games.

That was the startling finding of a recent survey by Common Sense Media. “These findings are fascinating because parents are using media for entertainment just as much as their kids, yet they express concerns about their kids’ media use while also believing that they are good role models for their kids,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense.

Despite their own media habit, 78 percent of parents contend they’re positive role models for their kids on the appropriate use of media.

The finding of “The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens“ won’t surprise anyone who’s attended an event at their local middle or high school. You can see the bright screens of parent iPhones at concerts, football games and plays. I was at a playground in Nashville in September, and at least half the parents were interacting with their phones more than their kids.

Parents of American tweens (age 8–12) and teens (age 13–18) allot most of their media time to personal interests, not work assignments. The study found parents use about an hour-and-a-half of screen media for work. In the course of a day, 91 percent of parents said they watched TV/ DVDs/videos. Only 19 percent of parents use e-readers, which may hint at why so many kids say they don’t read for fun.

The survey may also explain why so many parents resist cellphone bans in schools; parents see their own phones as integral to their lives and likely believe phones are also vital to their children’s well-being.

In fact, parents view technology as enriching their children’s lives in many ways rather than restricting it; Specifically, 44 percent said social media helps their children’s relationships with friends. More than nine out of 10 said technology positively supports their children with schoolwork and education; 88 percent said it assists their kids in learning new skills and 77 percent said it increases exposure to other cultures.

Parents expressed some misgivings with their children’s media habits; half believe social media hurts children’s physical activity. And parents are “moderately” or “extremely” worried about kids spending too much time online (43 percent), over-sharing personal details (38 percent), accessing online pornography (36 percent), and being exposed to violent images or videos (36 percent).

Differences surfaced in usage patterns among parents by ethnicity, income and education. African-American parents devote an hour-and-a-half more to personal screen media than Hispanics, who dedicate about two and a half hours more to personal screen media than white parents. Lower-income parents give more time to personal screen media than middle-income parents who, in turn, spend more time than higher-income parents.

The more educated the parent, the less time in front of screens. Those with a high school degree or less racked up the most time with personal screen media, compared with parents with at least some college, who invest more time than parents with an undergraduate degree or higher.

When I was at the playground in Nashville, I witnessed a boy urge his mom to stop looking at her phone so she could steady him on the monkey bars. Tugging, yelling and whining didn’t work, so the child lunged to grab hold of the first bar by himself, missed it and fell to the ground. This time, the mom didn’t ignore his cries, but pulled him from the pine straw and admonished, “You shouldn’t have tried that by yourself.”

In good advice for all parents, the boy responded: “Then please stop playing with your phone and play with me.”

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