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Study: Parents pivot on screen time rules during COVID

Wednesday, 10 Nov 2021

More than half of Australian parents have changed their rules around screen time since COVID-19, according to a new study from Life Ed and Trend Micro, released today.

While the majority of parents (69%) acknowledged their children were spending too much time online during COVID, families were divided when it came to the best way to manage screen time.

In fact, the task was so daunting for some parents that almost a third (30%) said they ‘gave up’ on moderating screen time because it ‘wasn’t worth the stress’. But while some parents relaxed restrictions, others took the opposite tack.

The Life Ed Trend Micro Report surveyed more than 1000 parents of school aged children (between 5-12 years old) about their concerns around their children’s use of online devices during COVID-19. The survey found:

  • 37% of parents reported relaxing screen time restrictions
  • 14% tried the opposite approach of bringing in more rules

Restrictions included limiting time on devices, and using parental controls. Almost 90% of parents also reported talking to their children about cyber safety due to increased concerns during the period.

Effects of increased screen time on children during COVID were both negative and positive, parents said.

While more time on devices meant less time outdoors, less time with family, and behavioural changes in some children, parents also acknowledged there was a silver lining, with screen time filling the void of face-to-face interaction.

“COVID presented many challenges for parents, especially around meeting children’s social and emotional needs”, Life Ed NSW/ACT CEO Jonathon Peatfield said. “Many parents recognised that online activity allowed for much needed social interaction and encouraged curiosity and connectedness.”

“Now that schools have gone back, it would be interesting to see whether changes to family rules around screen time continue.”

Life Ed Acting CEO Josy Shaw said the survey showed parents need support to help their children have a healthy online and offline balance.

One quarter of parents are still saying they don’t feel equipped with the knowledge to protect their children online. Parents are asking for support with monitoring screen time, safety around online strangers and inappropriate content, and educating their children about keeping personal information safe online.

“Together with our partner Trend Micro, we are working with parents, schools and communities to support children’s health and wellbeing, both online and off by developing free online resources for children, parents, and schools.”

“Children are going to continue to spend time online using a wide range of devices, so it’s important that Australian parents know they have tools and resources available to them to address their concerns around online cyber risks,” said Tim Falinski, Managing Director, Consumer, APAC, Trend Micro. “Beyond ongoing education, they should also utilise technologies that have features such as monitoring and parental controls, as these are often the first line of defence against online suspicious activity and can provide a strong layer of protection.”

* The Life Ed Trend Micro report surveyed more than 1000 Australian parents of school aged children, and was conducted in September 2021.