NEW STUDY: One Year Into the Pandemic, 82% of Parents Are Concerned About Their Kids’ Screen Time

43% of Parents Say the Excessive Use of Screens or Devices Has Caused Family Conflict

39% of Parents Link Excessive Use of Social Media and Devices to Declining Mental Health in their Kids

WASHINGTON D.C. — A new survey released by family advocacy group ParentsTogether, which has a membership network of over 2.5 million parents across the United States, revealed that a vast majority of parents (82%) are worried about their children’s online screen time, specifically pointing to concerns about social media addiction. 43% of parents say that the excessive use of screens or devices has caused family conflicts, and 39% of parents say that the increased screen time negatively impacts their child’s mental health. 

The most prominent platforms and apps used by kids whose parents completed the survey were largely non-educational: YouTube (78.6%), TikTok (47.3%) and Netflix (46.5%). Compared to a similar survey conducted in April 2020, ParentsTogether’s study found a nearly 14% increase in the use of TikTok. Parents remained concerned that their children are, or would become addicted to online activity as the result of the pandemic, expressing concern over exposure to sexual predators, potentially harmful misinformation, deceptive advertising and white supremacist content.

Almost all parents think that tech companies and Congress need to do more to protect kids online. 88% of parents say big tech companies are not doing enough to help keep kids safe from sexual predators online and 87% of parents believe Congress should include protections for kids online — like features that stop sexual predators or limits on deceptive advertising — in legislation to address the current crisis. Additionally, 95% of parents said COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) should be updated to protect 13-17 year olds.

The ParentsTogether survey also found that higher screen time had negative implications for children’s mental health:

  • 43% of parents say the use of screens or devices since the coronavirus crisis started caused conflicts for their family and that number increased to 55% for kids who spend 6+ hours online per day.
  • 28% of parents say their kids’ mental health is fair or poor. For kids who spend 6+ hours online per day that increases to 41%.
  • 39% of parents think increased time online is hurting their child’s mental health.
  • Among parents who rate their kids’ mental health as poor, 87% think time on screens or devices is “definitely” or “probably” hurting their mental health. 
  • For kids who attend school fully in person, 80% rate their kids’ mental health at great or good. That number drops to 68% for kids who are attending school fully remote.

“One year into the pandemic, the situation for our children is bleak. Kids spent an entire year on social media that undermines their wellbeing. From TikTok to YouTube, these platforms are designed to keep kids addicted, degrading their mental health and exposing them to predators,” said Justin Ruben, co-director of ParentsTogether. “Since it’s clear that tech companies won’t protect our kids, it is more important than ever for Congress to step up and require safety protections on the online platforms kids are using.

Parents shared unfavorable experiences online, where their child felt threatened or unsafe:

“My kids have been targeted by people asking if they can have their address in order to bring them free food/snacks to try and would be paid cash money and/or gift cards for their opinions on the products they try.”

“Men sending naked pictures to my 17-year-old.”

“She was harassed by racist & homophobic male students from a neighboring school district during the George Floyd/BLM protests.”

“She’s 5. Was on YouTube. Looked up ‘lego guys with big butts’ because 5 year olds like legos and butts are funny- it pulled up porn.”

Hear from parents in their own words about how time online has been affecting their kids:

“I have noticed both my older children are quicker to anger after screens are taken away. They ask for screen time constantly and are in a terrible mood when I say no.”

“The more they watch videos and play online instead of in person they are getting more rude and not caring what others feel and how to interact with others in a respectful way.”

“Because of social media they don’t or won’t actually physically go out and socialize with other people. They lack verbal communication and socialization skills. They have little to none real friends.”

Additionally, many parents specifically pointed to the January 6th attack as highlighting a need for more online safety, as many of the insurrectionists had been recruited from online platforms. 80% of parents reported being concerned about which social media platforms their child visits in light of January 6th and 56% of parents said they started taking new steps to limit the time their child spends online after the attack occurred.

ParentsTogether is a national, parent-led organization with over 2 million community members from coast to coast working together to build a world where every child and family can thrive. Our membership is socio-economically and racially diverse, and includes parents from every state.