Why do parents have a love-hate relationship with their kids digital usage?

Research from the Gonski Institute for Education reveals parents perceive digital devices as necessary for their kids’ learning but are worried about the distraction and activities they’re missing out on.

Children are more distracted by digital devices in the home, parents report:

Key facts: 

  • More than four in five children own at least one screen-based device that belongs to them, and children own, on average, three digital devices at home. Personal ownership of gadgets starts as young as four years old.
  • Only 46% of parents felt that their child spends a day without digital technology.
  • 73% of parents and grandparents think it is harder to control their child’s digital habits since getting their own screen-based device.
  • 65% of parents agreed that ‘negotiating digital technologies use causes conflicts in our home’.
  • 83% of parents, carers and grandparents felt that their child was negatively distracted by digital technologies.
  • Half of parents said that they would welcome more support from their child’s school to help them and their child to manage digital media and technologies use at home.

More than nine out of ten parents think digital devices negatively distract their own lives, and 83% think their children are also negatively distracted by digital gadgets.

While parents find digital technologies useful in staying connected with their children and keeping them safe, three-quarters of parents think it is difficult to control their child’s digital habits. As many as 65% of parents also admit that negotiating the use of digital media and technologies at home causes conflicts with their children.

“Parents think that digital media and technologies have a dual power of offering children both benefits and drawbacks,” says Professor Pasi Sahlberg, Deputy Director of the Gonski Institute for Education. “Hence, we need smart solutions to address these complex challenges towards sustainable digital wellness for our youth.”

Prof. Sahlberg says perhaps the most worrying finding is that about a third of families allow their children to use their digital devices after bedtime every single day. Furthermore, three of five children who struggle in school regularly sleep with their digital gadgets.

“Although our study is not able to prove that night-time use of smartphone or computer causes difficulties to keep up good learning at school, parents should help their children to fall asleep without technology,” Prof. Sahlberg says.

According to earlier findings, two-thirds of Australian teachers observed more children arriving at school tired and often not ready to learn.

About half of parents surveyed say they would welcome more support from their child’s school to help them and their child to manage digital media and technologies use at home.

“Parents know they need to be role models in the safe and responsible use of digital devices at home, but they still find themselves negatively distracted by digital media and technologies,” says Dr Graham.

The study is also one of the first efforts to include grandparents’ views of their own and their grandchildrens’ digital media habits. Almost four in five grandparents feel they are in control of their own digital technology use, and most would rather see their grandchildren play sports than video games.

Read the Growing Up Digital Australia Phase 2 Technical Report.

Growing Up Digital Australia is part of an international research project, including Harvard Medical School (U.S.) and Alberta Teachers Association (Canada), investigating how digital media and technologies impact children’s wellbeing, health, and eventually learning at school. The report surveyed nearly 2,500 parents, grandparents and caregivers and collected data about more than 5,000 children across Australia on home use of digital devices by young people during the pandemic.