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Education Assistant or Privacy Nightmare? IEEE Identifies How Parents Really Feel About Their Kids Using Technology During 50 Percent of Their Free Time

New national research pinpoints trends about parents' views and concerns about their children's use of technology and the impact it has on them

30 November 2015 - IEEE, the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity, today announced the results of its Kids and Technology Survey, a national survey of 1,000 parents with children in grades K-8 that measured how and how often kids are using technology and parents’ primary concerns around this use.  

Parents indicated that their children use technology 2.92 hours during an average weeknight when school is in session and 3.77 hours during an average weekend day when school is in session. Taking into account an average of 10 hours for sleep and additional 6.64 hours for school, children in grades K-8 have about 7.36 hours of free time each day. Based on these findings and averages, children are spending between approximately 40 and 50 percent of their free time using technology when school is in session. Based on this level of usage, parents indicated that: 

  • Nearly half (48 percent) of parents were “not concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their children spending too much time online
  • Watching digital content (70 percent) was the most popular use of technology, while using it for schoolwork (67 percent) or playing offline (59 percent) or online games (59 percent) also ranked high
  • Less physical exercise was the most common way (44 percent) that parents identified as being negatively impacted by technology
  • Almost one-third of parents (30 percent) also believed their child’s interaction with them was negatively impacted by using technology too much
  • More than one-quarter (27 percent) felt that technology impacted their child’s socialization with their peers

The survey also revealed that the average “acceptable” age for their child to use and have their own video game console was 7.34 years old, which represents the youngest age for a child to own a personal technology device. Of all the other gadgets listed, including e-Readers (7.72), mp3 players (7.74), tablet (8.03), and netbooks (9.23), cell phones were given the highest average age for children to use and have their own (11 years old). 

Parents Less Concerned About Developing Unhealthy Habits and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) 

While parents expressed several concerns about their children’s use of technology, developing unhealthy lifestyles and FOMO were lowest on the list. Nearly half (47 percent) of parents were “not concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their children not eating healthy foods and having a lack of physical exercise. Only one in three parents (33 percent) were either “concerned” or “very concerned” about their children’s FOMO or them not being invited or part of a desirable online group. 

Not surprisingly, parents were “extremely” or “very concerned” about their children:  

  • Sharing too much private and/or personal information (66 percent)
  • Being exposed to inappropriate material (62 percent)
  • Spending too much time online in general (52 percent)

“The various issues highlighted by the findings (sharing personal information, accessing inappropriate content, and cyberbullying) are all valid concerns. However, a key thing to recognize is that they do not have to be inevitable consequences of using the technology,” stated Stephen Furnell, IEEE Fellow. “While it is essential to recognize the risks, it is also important to keep things in proportion. Take a measured view and don’t let the concerns mask out the many benefits that the technology can offer.” 

Parents Think Technology Positively Impacts Education and Extracurricular Activities 

While parents surveyed enumerated many concerns, an average of 88 percent of parents were confident that the use of technology in schools and at home (for example, laptops/computers, tablets, smart boards, and e-learning exercises) would have a positive impact on their child’s education. More specifically, 75 percent of parents felt their children’s use of technology is positively impacting and helping them with homework, and 50 percent felt technology is having a positive impact on their success with encouraging extracurricular activities. 

“Computers help us learn, communicate, and relax. However, there are downsides," said Kevin Curran, IEEE Senior member. "For example, while social media can be a wonderful tool to help young people feel connected, the downside is that it can amplify feelings of inadequacy among young people who cannot as easily discern that their friends do not live perfect lives. They lack the developed skills of adults to understand that those postings of others are simply their best side. We all have a responsibility to not treat computers as the modern-day playground that we can ‘dump’ children into. How many parents would drive to a bad side of town and dump their children there unsupervised? Of course, no one would—so we have to also begin to think of computers and the Internet as an unsupervised playground.” 

About the Survey

IEEE commissioned a quantitative research survey among 1,000 American parents with children between kindergarten and eighth grade. The interviews were conducted online between the dates of 9 and 16 November using a representative and professionally recruited panel of respondents. The data was weighted slightly by age, gender, income, education, and region.


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