ADHD News & Research

New Study: Despite Parents’ Limits on Internet Usage, Bad Habits Persist

In our increasingly connected world, many parents report taking steps to regulate and cap their child’s screen time — without resounding success.

February 3, 2017

Ninety-five percent of parents limit their kids’ hours online, a new survey finds — but the Internet still dominates family life in a big way, particularly when it comes to smartphones and tablets.

The survey, released in January and entitled “New Family Dynamics in a Connected World,” was commissioned by Intel Security and carried out by the polling company OnePoll. It asked 13,000 parents from Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. about their habits and rules regarding Internet use in the home.

Only 5 percent of parents said their children had unlimited access to the Internet during the week, and 69 percent said they limited Internet use to fewer than two hours a day. Most parents monitored their kids’ device usage either by keeping their tablet or device in their possession when the child wasn’t using it (36 percent) or by using Internet monitoring software (23 percent). Almost all the parents reported discussing online safety as a family at some point.

But not all the trends reported in the survey were positive. When it came to weekends, more parents — 12 percent — said they didn’t impose any Internet time limits. A majority of parents (76 percent) reported that they allow their children to bring smartphones, tablets, or other Internet-connected devices to bed with them — which can disrupt sleep and may result in unapproved online activity while the child is unsupervised.

Evidence suggests that children with ADHD may be more prone to Internet addiction than children without the condition, most likely due to the dopamine boosts associated with online use. Children with weak social skills may also be more likely to fall victim to cyberbullying, and impulsive tendencies may cause them to engage in risky behaviors online, like talking to strangers. It’s important, experts say, for parents to set reasonable restrictions on Internet time — and to cultivate alternative interests, too.

“To make the [Internet] less seductive, find ways to minimize your child’s downtime at home, especially those times when he is alone,” suggests Larry Silver, M.D. “Maybe your child would be interested in arts and crafts, theater, or movie-making. Maybe a social-skills group would be a good idea. Maybe he could join a youth group at your church or synagogue.”

And it’s important to remember that kids aren’t the only ones who can spend too much time online, the survey’s authors conclude in a press release. Thirty-six percent of the parents reported that their children had scolded them for being on a device during family time — meaning it might be time for some well-meaning parents to practice what they preach.