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Never mind students, how do we get distracted parents to unplug?

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 serious media habit. 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 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.

The data in "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) spend most of their media time on personal interests, not on 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 argue against cellphone bans in schools; parents see  phones as integral to their lives and likely believe the phones are also vital to their kids and their well-being.

Despite their own extreme media habits, 78 percent of parents believe they’re positive role models for their kids on appropriate use of media.

Other key findings of the Common Sense survey:

Social media: Half of parents believe that social media hurts children’s physical activity.

Internet usage: 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).

Monitoring: Two-thirds (67 percent) of parents say that monitoring media use is more important than respecting their children’s privacy.

Ethnicity: African-American parents (10:37) spend about an hour and a half more with personal screen media than Hispanic parents (8:52), who spend about two and a half hours more with personal screen media than white parents (6:38).

Income: Parents from lower-income households spend more time with personal screen media (9:15) than middle-income parents (7:42), who spend more time than higher-income parents (6:41).

Education: Parents with a high school degree or less spend the most time with personal screen media (9:03), as compared with parents with at least some college (7:41), who spend more time than parents with an undergraduate degree or higher (6:10).

In her 2013 book, "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Families in the Digital Age," psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair warned, "Designed to serve us, please us, inform us, entertain us and connect us, over time our digital devices have finally come to define us...While parents and children are enjoying swift and constant access to everything and everyone on the Internet, they're simultaneously struggling to maintain a meaningful personal connection with each other in their own homes."

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.