Rebecca Jackson

School of Thought

Parents Under-Estimate Kids' Media Use

Case study from The Learning Habit

Posted Sep 01, 2014

Note: The following case study is an excerpt from The Learning Habit by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Rebecca Jackson, and Dr. Robert Pressman by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2014 by Good Parent, Inc.  

Case Study: Colleen’s Cognitive Disconnect

Colleen is a Connecticut mother who participated in The Learning Habit interviews; she is the mother of one child, Nelson, and newly pregnant with her second. She had to be interviewed in the morning, while her son was in kindergarten. Colleen believed that she had Nelson’s media usage well under control. During the interview, Colleen was asked how many hours a day her child used media.

She answered, “Two hours. I know that’s probably not ideal, but sometimes it’s the only way I can get stuff done.”

The interviewer was standing in front of a white board holding a black marker. On the board she had already transcribed a list of the media devices Colleen’s family owned:

  • televisions
  • 2 iPads
  • early learning tablets
  • 1 Xbox
  • 2 cell phones
  • 1 laptop computer
  • 1 desktop computer
  • 1 digital camera

“Do you have any screens built into your car?” asked the interviewer.

“Oh, yes,” Colleen replied. “There’s a built-in TV and DVD player in my SUV.”

The interviewer changed the television total from 2 to 3. She then asked Colleen to reconstruct her previous day, and asked specific questions designed to build an accurate, almost minute-by-minute picture of how Nelson’s non-school time was spent in relation to each media device. The researcher stepped away from the chart and showed Colleen the total.

It was 5 hours, 55 minutes—essentially 6 hours

 “Oh my gosh! That’s . . . just not possible! I mean, it was a really busy day . . . the trip to the mall took forever, with the highway construction and all . . . waiting in the restaurant. . . . Six hours? No—that’s terrible!” a shocked Colleen exclaimed.

The researcher just smiled. “Actually, it’s pretty typical,” she explained.


In Households Across the Country 

Parents who took part in one of our early Learning Habit surveys regularly reported that their child used between 90 and 120 minutes of media per day. Yet when asked specific questions about the devices, the total was commonly between six and eight hours per day.  

The Learning Habit findings were consistent with other media research. The “few minutes” of playing on Mommy’s phone plus “one or  two  TV  shows  or  DVDs” plus “some iPad games here and there” plus “the movie on the trip to and from the mall” don’t seem like much—until all the minutes are added up. 

Cognitive Disconnect and Screen Time

This case study is a powerful example of the disconnect parents often feel when reading or hearing about statistics, which apply to them.  Parents do not typically associate the experiences from their own families with negative research findings. During interviews conducted for The Learning Habit, parents were unable to believe that their children were using 6-8 hours of media per day.  

LEARN MORE: The Learning Habit is packed with hundreds of case studies and information from nearly 50,000 parents who participated in the groundbreaking research study. Order your copy today!

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