Fears of tech addiction in kids living ‘digital childhood’

Internet is now more popular than TV and 25% of toddlers have their own media device, new research finds

Over the years, children’s entertainment has transformed significantly, with children today being more likely to use the internet frequently than adults. OFCOM (Office of Communications) reports that internet usage has overtaken TV for the first-time as the top media pastime for children around the UK. Researchers studying the behaviour of children have indicated that youngsters are living in a “digital childhood”, and therefore increasingly likely to become addicted to technology.

According to a survey by Tech and Play (2015), 25% of under threes have their own media device, such as a tablet or games console, and 37% of three to five year olds. The remainder of children share use with friends and other family members, as a large number of household’s own tablets. Older children, between five and 15 years old, are most likely to have the most access to electronic devices. In 2014, a survey by OFCOM, 7 in 10 children aged between five and 15 use a tablet, which is likely to have soared even further today.

Research conducted by OFCOM has shown that the use of technology amongst children has increased considerably, particularly amongst young children. In 2015, toddlers aged around three to four years old spent on average 6 hours and 48 minutes per week on electronic devices, which soared to 8 hours and 18 minutes last year – an increase of 26%. For children aged between five and 15 years old, the average time also substantially increased, from 14 hours and 42 minutes in 2015 to 15 hours in 2016. Children today are becoming increasingly addicted to electronics and technology, emphasising the claim that youngsters are living in a “digital childhood”.

It is unsurprising that children today are becoming addicted to technology when the number of apps available for children to play on the Apple ‘App Store’ and Android’s ‘Google Play’ are on the rise. According to statistics released by Statista, in the space of two years (January 2015 to 2017), apps on the App Store grew by almost one million alone. It is no wonder children favour electronic devices over television when there are so many apps readily available at the click of a button.

OFCOM research has suggested that, due to the increase in technology use among young children, only one in 10 toddlers of the so-called “iPad generation” are labelled as being ‘healthy’ by paediatricians. The Nightingale Hospital, located in central London, has treated children as young as 12 years old for ‘technology addiction’. PAARS, a charity from North London has seen a marked rise in the number of children becoming ‘addicted’ to electronic devices, such as tablets, games consoles and phones. As a result, they have seen a sudden increase in the number of children verbally abusing, or even physically hitting them, when they take devices away from them, or turn the internet off to prevent usage.

Children who spend the majority of their childhood online tend to have less of an ability to focus than youngsters who use technology minimally

Furthermore, starting at a screen, such as an electronic device, can arguably have adverse effects on the brain and concentration. Technology has a profound impact on the way young children think and feel, and since technology is full of stimuli and often requires paying attention to a number of things at the same time. Children who spend the majority of their childhood online tend to have less of an ability to focus than youngsters who use technology minimally. Moreover, children as young as seven years old are developing hunchbacks and curved spines due to long hours spent bending over devices such as phones and tablets.

In a survey by Onbuy.com, a sample of parents with children aged from zero to 15 years old were asked series of questions regarding technology. 64% of the parents questioned said that they would prefer money to be spent on children’s television rather than on electronic apps, to avoid children from becoming addicted to tablets and games consoles, and 77% of parents surveyed would favour their children to watch TV shows instead of playing on electronic devices for hours on end.

When Onbuy.com asked parents why they allowed their children to play on tablets and game consoles for long periods of time, parents had four main responses:

·     They didn’t allow children to play on electronic devices for long periods of time (14%)

·     They only allowed use for educational purposes (29%)

·     For entertainment, socialising and winding down (22%)

·      Convenience; for parents to keep their child entertained and quiet whilst they complete chores, cook or work (33%).

Due to the rise in technology, there has been a noticeable decline in children’s programming times on popular television channels, such as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. In 1998, repeats of children’s TV shows made up just 38% of children’s television, whereas in 2011, the figure rose sharply to 91%, according to OFCOM research. As well as this, programming schedules among major channels have decreased significantly – with ITV having the sharpest decline. In 1998, ITV had an astonishing 424 hours’ worth of children’s shows in a year, which fell drastically to 42 hours in 2015. Furthermore, Channel 5 saw the second largest drop, with 353 hours in 1998 being reduced to 30 in 2015. Additionally, Channel 4 cut their hours drastically in 2015, reducing 49 hours to a mere zero.

According to the BBC, over the last six years, children’s viewing of TV programmes has dropped by more than a quarter. In an attempt to revive the children’s sector, last month, the BBC unveiled it will invest more money into children’s television as part of the BBC’s first Annual Plan. The new investment will see the budget for children’s programming reach £124.4m by 2019-20, up from the current figure of £110m. The BBC claim in three years, £31.4m of their budget will be spent online, to appeal to younger generations that are becoming more “tech savvy”, in order to combat competition from American broadcasters such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.