New research reveals how parents and teens approach screen time - we share 5 key findings (and #4 might surprise you)

74% of teens say they feel happy when they don't have their phone

A family sat on a sofa looking at their smartphones
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A new study has looked into families' attitudes to screen time and smartphone use, and it turns out both teens and their parents are divided on the issues.

Screen time is a common concern among modern parents, as research has found that two-thirds of parents notice its negative effects on their children. Whether it's harmful content on social media or nomophobia (fear of being without a mobile phone), there are a number of ways too much time online can be damaging. But it's important to remember that screens aren't the enemy - there are benefits too, including educational resources and their ability to teach kids responsibility.

A recent report from the Pew Research Centre outlined how both teens and parents feel about screen time, and there were some very mixed results. By conducting an online survey of 1,453 teens and parents, the research found out about respondents' attitudes to their own smartphone use as well as that of their family.

The key findings showed that 72 per cent of teens say they often or sometimes feel peaceful when they don’t have their smartphone, though 44 per cent said being without their phone sometimes makes them feel anxious. On the benefits of smartphones, 69 per cent say smartphones make it easier for youth to pursue hobbies and interests, though just 30 per cent say it helps people their age learn good social skills.

Both parents and teens highlighted the drawbacks of screen time, with nearly half of teens (46 per cent) saying their parent is at least sometimes distracted by their phone when they’re trying to talk to them, while about four-in-ten parents and teens report regularly arguing with one another about time spent on their phone.

1. Teens and parents feel they spend too much time on their phone

More teens say they spend too much time on their phone (38 per cent) than say they don’t spend enough time on them (5 per cent), although 51 per cent said they feel the amount of time they spend on their phone is about right. This differs by gender, with teen girls more likely than boys to say they spend too much time on their smartphone (44 per cent vs 33 per cent).

A minority of teens have taken steps to reduce their screen time, with 36 per cent saying they have cut back on their time on their phone. This is more common for girls (four in ten) compared to boys (one-third).

Like teens, about half of parents (47 per cent) say they spend too much time on their smartphone. 45 per cent of parents believe they spend the right amount of time on their phone.

2. Teens have mixed feelings about being without their phone

Roughly three-quarters of teens say it often or sometimes makes them feel happy (74 per cent) or peaceful (72 per cent) when they don’t have their smartphone. But on the other hand, a smaller number of teens say not having their phone at least sometimes makes them feel anxious (44 per cent), upset (40 per cent) and lonely (39 per cent).

Older girls aged 15 to 17 were most likely to say they feel anxious at least sometimes when they don’t have their smartphone (55 per cent). Overall, 45 per cent of teen girls say not having their phone makes them feel lonely regularly, compared with 34 per cent of teen boys.

3. Teens think the benefits of smartphones outweigh the negatives

Seven-in-ten teens say smartphones provide more benefits than harms for people their age, while a smaller share (30 per cent) take the opposing view, saying there are more harms than benefits.

Majorities of teens say smartphones make it a little or a lot easier for people their age to pursue hobbies and interests (69 per cent) and be creative (65 per cent). Close to half (45 per cent) say these devices have made it easier for youth to do well in school.

However, a significant proportion of teens say smartphones make it harder to learn good social skills (42 per cent) and develop healthy friendships (37 per cent).

4. It's common for parents to look through their teen's phone

Half of parents of teens say they look through their teen’s phone, and it turn out most teens know about it. When teenagers were asked if they thought their parents ever looked through their phones, 43 per cent believed this had happened.

However, whether parents report looking through their child’s smartphone depends on their kid’s age. While 64 per cent of parents of 13- to 14-year-olds say they look through their teen’s smartphone, this share drops to 41 per cent among parents of 15- to 17-year-olds.

5. Parents prioritise tracking their teens' phone use

Roughly three-quarters of parents (76 per cent) say managing how much time their teen spends on the phone is an important or a top priority. However, there’s a nearly even split between parents who restrict their teen’s time on their phone and those who don’t. About half of parents (47 per cent) say they limit the amount of time their teen can be on their phone, while a similar share (48 per cent) don’t do this.

It's not easy to keep tabs on teens' screen time, however, as 43 per cent of parents say it’s hard to manage how much time their teen spends on their phone.

With the alarming news that screen time is being scientifically linked to abnormal behaviour in toddlers and it takes just 10 minutes for children to come across ‘unsafe, age-restricted and illegal content’ online, you might want to check out these 12 expert tips for keeping kids safe on social media.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.