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ROLE MODELS

Nearly 30% of teens sleep with their phones, but parents’ device use may be more problematic

By Jenny Anderson

Common Sense Media surveyed parents and teens about their media use in 2016, and published a bracing report subtitled “Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance.” The group surveyed a similar group in 2019 and the most concerning findings are about parents, not kids.

Nearly half (45%) of parents now say they feel addicted to their devices, up 18 points from 2016. Only 39% of kids feel the same, down 11 points from three years ago. Similarly, a whopping 52% of parents say they spend too much time on their devices, up sharply from 2016, while teens seem increasingly comfortable with their phone use:

Teens are, of course, masters of their own truth: around two-thirds of them take their phones to bed and around 30% sleep with them. Although a larger share of parents have their phones within reach of bed at night, “only” 12% keep it in bed. And more teens (36%) wake up at least once during the night to check their phones than parents (26%).

Research is divided on the impact of technology on well-being: psychologist Jean Twenge says excessive mobile device use is a driver of depression, unhappiness, and suicidal thoughts, while Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski examined three large data sets and found that digital technology use could only explain roughly 0.4% of adolescent well-being, roughly the same effect as eating potatoes (pdf). What is not in question is that teens need more sleep, and devices mess with sleep.

When it comes to modeling healthy device use, Common Sense Media’s new survey is damning. Nearly 40% of kids think their parents are addicted to their phones, up 10 points from 2016. Notably, a majority of teens (56%) with a parent who said they feel addicted to their phone feel addicted themselves. Those who say their parents have a problematic relationship with their devices are also far more likely to say this behavior has hurt their relationship (20%) than those who don’t think their parents are addicted to their phones (2%).

Overall, though, both parents and kids report that conflicts over devices are becoming less frequent over time. So, either we are acclimating to our hopelessly online lives, living in denial, or too tired to care.