SAN JOSE, California: They limit their kids' screen time, set filters on their browsers and banish digital devices from the dinner table. Then those same parents pick up their own iPhones to check e-mail, scan Twitter and update their Facebook statuses.
Even as they fret that their kids may become device zombies, parents are setting a lousy example – and they know it.
"I'd give myself a B-minus or C-plus – and that's up from a solid F at one point," said Jason Miller of San Jose, about following the personal-device rules he sets for his children. "The kids have called me out on it, for which I was grateful."
Miller, a product manager for the news and social media aggregator Flipboard, limits his daughters' iPad time to 30 minutes a day, not including music. And yet, he realises that the rules for his 12- and 10-year-old kids are hypocritical.
He's not alone. A survey by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media of 1,800 parents, conducted in July and released this month, found that parents of teens and 'tweens spent more than nine hours a day on screen media, including seven hours 43 minutes for personal use.
That's nearly every waking minute outside a normal work day – although multitasking like checking Instagram while watching TV racked up double minutes.
Dacia Mitchell of Oakland allows her seven-year-old an hour, broken into two sessions, on her iPad. In return, the Mitchells gave her policing power over Mommy and Daddy using their cellphones during family time. "A seven-year-old will point out every single time you're breaking the rules," Mitchell said. "You suddenly become hyper-aware of your usage."
Parents ruefully note that handheld computers, replete with maps, games, messages, photos, factoids and magic-like connections, have become an indispensable extension of our brains and beings.
The survey found that most parents of kids eight to 18 are concerned about their kids' social media use, potential addiction to technology and the erosion of their sleep time. Two-thirds monitor their child's screen use.
The survey also found stark ethnic gaps. Latino parents are more aware and more involved in managing their children's media use and talking with them about it. White parents were the least involved; African-American parents were in between and Asian parents, because of their small sampling size, were not reported separately.
Sixty percent of Latino parents, compared with just 43% of white parents, believe their kids spend too much time online. Well over half of Latino parents fear their kids share too many personal details, are exposed to images of violence, may access pornography, sexual images and hurtful comments.
The reason for the differences is not certain. James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, applauds Latino parents' vigilance. "They're a model for the rest of us," he said,
What the Internet may bring into the lives of her four children "is one of my biggest worries," said Patricia Lopez of the Bay Area. She occasionally looks at what other children post online. "Sometimes you see drugs and photos of them smoking," she said. "Facebook is scary to me."
She and her husband are alert, she said, and her eight-year-old twins are only allowed to use their school-issued laptops in the family room.
"We always try to advise them," she said but realises she can't always control what her kids do at friends' houses, if parents work, don't monitor kids or allow them to play violent videogames. "We can't create rules for other houses," she said.
She herself has a cellphone, which she uses primarily for phone calls, photos, and checking her kids' school work. She doesn't use a computer and rarely watches TV. "I'm from an older era," she said, laughing. "I still use paper and pencil, and keep my calendar posted in the kitchen," despite her kids' suggestion that she put it online.
But the push and pull of the Internet age is a tough force to navigate.
Adriana Sanchez of San Jose has given her two teenagers cellphones, but makes it clear that she can check them at any time. She trusts her daughter, 16, and son, 15, she said, because she has built a solid relationship based on good communication.
Sanchez, an office assistant and caregiver, and her husband, a construction worker, don't have time for Facebook. They also don't have a TV, but she'll turn on Netflix on her phone when cooking or cleaning.
At the back of parents' minds are stories they hear from friends or others of media-influenced wayward kids.
"My older son got into videogames and played day and night," said one parent, who did not want her name published. At first, the parents thought he was doing homework, and then realised, as he brought home D's and F's, that he was obsessed with gaming. He nearly didn't graduate from high school, but made it to state university – then flunked out.
Although he's legally an adult, "he really has no self-control," she said, decrying purposely addictive electronic games.
That lure, plus the wild West of social networks lacking rules, acutely worry parents.
"We worry a lot about etiquette online," said Janis Wright of San Jose. "The idea that being rude is being truthful is a horrible fallacy."
So the family's tablet computers are set to run out of battery power after about an hour – which means it's time for her sons, ages five and eight, to do something else.
Wright, a freelance designer, tells them the time limits are designed to ensure their brains work better. "I try to explain the cognitive theory behind it – why you have to do different things different ways, like doing handwriting as well as typing."
And yet, like many vigilant parents, Wright concedes she's not always the best role model: "I'm on Facebook far too much." — The Mercury News/Tribune News Service
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