Kids Think Parents Are Hypocrites When it Comes to Rules on Screen Time, Study Says

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If you're not a millennial, you probably remember a time when the rules were simple.

Come home before dark! Wash your hands before dinner! Don’t talk to strangers!

Things have changed. Parents now have to contend with a technological home invasion that requires a new set of dictates for their kids.

No phones at the dinner table! No Snapchat until your homework is done! Don't talk to strangers (on the Internet)!

A new study, however, has found that kids want the rules to run both ways, and that many adolescents would like their parents to stop texting while driving or posting their photos without their permission.


“Twice as many children as parents expressed concerns about family members oversharing personal information about them on Facebook and other social media without permission,” says the study's co-author Sarita Schoenebeck. “Many children said they found that content embarrassing and felt frustrated when their parents continued to do it.”

Schoenebeck is part of a team of researchers at the University of Washington and University of Michigan who surveyed 249 families with children between the ages of 10 and 17 about how families navigate technology limits and expectations.

Here are a few rules kids would set for their parents.

  • Set down your device, or close your screen when I’m talking to you. (The most common request from children.)
  • Moderate your online time. (Go outside and play applies to you, too.)
  • You can’t use the phone at mealtimes, either. (Practice what you preach.)

The research suggests that clear and simple rules are the most successful. If parents see that kids won’t disengage from an app or social media site the best solution might be to make it off-limits.

“We were surprised to find that when mom and dad say, ‘You can’t be on Instagram,’ it’s easier for kids to accept and stick to that rule than when they say, ‘You can be on Instagram, but you have to put it away at dinner,'” said Hiniker. “As a teenager, I think I would have been happier in a world where I got to be on Instagram at least some of the time, but that really seemed to be a struggle for families.”

However, children say it’s easier to follow rules when they’re crafted collectively, as a family, and when parents lived by them as well. So, before you cut your teenager off from Facebook you better be ready to log off too.

“Ultimately, our end goal is to give recommendations to product designers to help them understand how people are using their technologies, and how we might design things in the future to make family relationships around technology more harmonious,” says UW lead author Alexis Hiniker.

For example, Hiniker says the new data about “oversharing” might influence a social media site to design a platform where you can’t post material about someone else without permission. Or an app might add a family-time feature that disables notifications for 30 minutes.

“If app and device designers were more open to fostering healthy technology habits, they probably would make their current customers happier,” says UW co-author Julie Kientz. “And they might bring in more families who’ve decided the rule is not to use it at all.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.