Screen time for children: How much is too much?
Whether we like it or not, technology is now a part of any parent’s daily life. From keeping your little monsters quiet with an iPad on a long car journey, to tearing them away from their PlayStation when it’s time for bed, we can’t escape the fact that technology has changed the way we raise our children.
But even though the rise of tech has made things a lot easier for parents, it’s also made things even more challenging. Many parents understandably worry that creative play, outdoor activity and imaginary friends have been sidelined in the digital age. Not only is the latest ‘must have’ tech for your child not cheap, but there have been studies that indicate that increased screen time can affect a child physically and mentally, with warnings that it can disturb a child’s cognition and raise their blood pressure.
So just how does the time our children spend on the latest gadgets like smart phones, tablets and game consoles affect family life? We surveyed 1,000 parents in the UK to get their opinions about the positives and negatives of raising a child with so much readily available smart technology.
Although we quizzed parents on a range of devices, from smart TVs, to laptops, to e-readers to games consoles, the most fascinating results were around smart phones and tablets, so we have focused on those two in our analysis.
What age are children owning devices?
It seems like children are growing up faster than ever these days, and tech is no different in that respect. From our research we’ve found that children are owning devices as young as three years old, with almost a third owning a mobile phone before they’re nine and almost two-thirds owning a tablet. This would also correlate with the pressure parents feel to buy them for their children, as we explore below.
According to our survey, millennial parents (those 35 and under), are far more relaxed about letting their children use devices than any other age group. They are four times more likely to let their toddler (aged 4 and under) own a phone than any other parental age group, and twice as likely to let their toddlers own a tablet. Overall it would seem that younger generations are more comfortable with technology than ever.
How good are kids at getting their way with technology?
Pressure on parents to buy the latest toys for their children is not new, but with more than half of parents feeling pressure to buy their children devices, it seems that these days children are swapping teddy bears for tablets.
And this pressure is most keenly felt by higher-earning and London-based parents, with half of Londoners and almost half of parents earning £60k or more feeling pressured to buy their children devices, far more than any other region or income level.
How often do children use their devices?
We all take for granted how regularly we use our devices, and it’s now a cliché to hear people say that they “couldn’t live without their phones”. Our research shows that is starting to influence children too, with more than half using their mobile phone every day. It even outstrips the number of children who watch TV every day.
How do parents use devices to entertain the kids?
How many times have you seen a crying child go silent the moment their parent hands them a phone or tablet? Well according to our research, almost one in five parents surveyed reported using this very tactic to keep their children entertained every day.
We see that London-based and higher-earning parents are twice as likely to use devices to keep their children entertained than any other region or income level. This coincides with the pressure these groups feel to buy devices in the first place.
How has using devices affected children?
It can sometimes feel like children are glued to their screens, and our research suggests that parents are beginning to worry about the effects of technology. Almost half of parents are concerned about their child’s screen time affecting school work and engagement with the world around them.
A similar number of parents surveyed were worried that children were getting addicted to and dependent on their devices. This would correlate to the negative effects on behaviour that many parents have also reported – and resonate with many a parent who has struggled to pry their children away from their favourite computer game.
Our research shows that over a quarter of parents noticed negative behaviours as a result of device usage, which will resonate with any parent who has dealt with a tantrum as a result of taking a device away from them.
What have we learnt today? A summary:
From our research it seems that children are owning and using devices more often, and at a younger age, than ever before. Our research also suggests that devices are now the primary form of entertainment for children, more so than even TV, and that parents are increasingly using devices to keep their children quiet. On the downside, parents are starting to notice some negative behaviours from device usage and are beginning to get concerned about how devices affect their children, too.
We have outlined some ways in which you can counter the negative effects of too much screen time in our article: How much screen time for children is too much?