Published on 21 Sep 2015 Sections ,

Half of parents fear their children are addicted to screens

The explosion in tablet computers and smartphones has turned British children into a nation of technology junkies, according to an exclusive Channel 4 News poll released today.

43 per cent of parents say they think their children are addicted to screens, and 47 per cent believe their children spend too much time in front of them.

But many parents believe the benefits of technology outweigh the disadvantages, with 84 per cent of parents believing there are educational benefits to having access to tablets and smartphones.

The poll of more than 1000 parents carried out by ComRes for Channel 4 News reveals the average British child spends two hours and 56 minutes in front of screens every day.

The vast majority use screens mainly to play games (54 per cent) and watch videos on YouTube (38 per cent).

A quarter of parents suggest social media is one of the three most common use of screens for their children. Just 19 per cent say their children mostly use screens for schoolwork and homework.

A ‘good distraction’

But despite concerns, almost two thirds of parents admitted “iParenting”. Some 63 per cent of parents said that screens are a good distraction for their children when they are busy or tired.

The research also reveals that the majority of parents use their phones regularly in front of their children and use access to screens as a way of controlling their children’s behaviour.

Some 66 per cent say they use tablets, smartphones or computers when they are with their children, while 59 per cent stop their children from using devices as a punishment for bad behaviour, but 51 per cent say they should not be used as a reward for good behaviour.

Parents also revealed their main fears about their children’s use of technology. Access to sexual content is the biggest fear, with 54 per cent of parents concerned.
Violent material (52 per cent), meeting strangers online (52 per cent), online bullying (49 per cent) and online grooming (49 per cent) are the main concerns.

Lack of guidance

Despite the explosion in cheap technology meaning British children have more access to the internet than ever before, there is still no official government guidance for parents on managing their children’s screentime.

The ComRes poll showed that 59 per cent of parents had no idea what levels of screen time are appropriate.

Professor Sonia Livingstone, from the London School of Economics, said: “I think parents themselves don’t quite know where to turn for guidance. It feels to me a bit like with the internet we’ve given our kids the tools but we haven’t given them a map.”

Professor Livingstone has just completed a Europe-wide study of how families cope with young children’s screen time.

Tech savvy

She found British, Belgian and German parents were more restrictive, Finnish and Czech parents more easy going. The most confident parents were the most tech-savvy but also the ones who took the most time to understand what their children were doing online.

She added: “Parents who understand the internet better and can advise their children better on how to make those judgements on what’s safe, what’s not safe, what’s interesting, what’s less exciting and so on, will have children who themselves feel more confident and more skilled and better able to make judgements.”

The poll comes as the latest Ofcom data reveals just how widespread technologies have become in British homes.

An analysis of Ofcom’s 2015 data carried out by Channel 4 News shows 73 per cent of children in the UK have access to tablets alone.

But despite ready access and the hours that British children are spending online, only one per cent of 12-15 year olds are concerned that future employers or teachers might see something untoward about them posted on social media.