Vertical Markets

More screen time

by Mark Rowe

We don’t yet fully understand the consequences of more screen time for children as a result of lockdown; for children’s development, education, or safety. But clearly, the more unsupervised time spent on devices, the greater the risk of online harms, according to Prof Robert Winston, medical doctor, scientist, professor, and presenter of BBC TV documentary ‘Child of our Time’. “Parents are understandably worried about their kids being exposed to online harms, such as bullying, grooming and false information at such an impressionable stage of their development.”

He was commenting on a survey by the cyber product company NortonLifeLock of 5,000 parents across Europe, including 1000 in the UK. The survey asked parents to compare their children’s use of technology at the peak of lockdown with their average usage. Before lockdown, children spent around a quarter of their day online in the UK, clocking up five hours on average using internet connected devices. Before lockdown, British children were already spending longer than their Continental counterparts online, but their screen time also increased the most compared with other countries surveyed.

The spring lockdown led to an increase in device use for many, with online time up for three in four children in the UK. More than half (60pc) of UK children saw their usage increase for a range of activities including spending more time using games consoles, 59pc increased their use of smartphones, 61pc spent more time on a laptop or PC and 57pc used a tablet more.

And parents’ time online has rocketed too. Three quarters of parents across the UK (82pc) said they spent more time on internet connected devices during the peak of the lockdown restrictions. Three in ten (37pc) had their child call them out for spending too much time online, and two in five (44pc) worry about setting a bad example. Not only have parents been called out by their kids, but over a quarter (31pc) also say they’ve been parent shamed by other mums and dads for the time they spend online. A quarter in the UK (31pc) also say they’ve been parent shamed over their kids’ screen time.

Parents have been put in an impossible position, Prof Winston added. “It’s down to them to set an example; yet many have had to work from home on a computer or smartphone all day – whilst using tech as digital day care. Children will inevitably imitate their parents. As such, parents must spend time talking to their kids about online risks and developing kids’ social skills – especially after such a long time away from school.”

Among tips by the cyber firm; set limits to screen time, the type of content a child accesses online through their mobiles and other devices or the appropriate tone of language to use online. Children are likely to imitate their parents’ and adult’s behaviour, so lead by example. Set your own healthy practices around screen time and online safety. Encourage your children to think about the videos, photographs, and information they share through mobiles, especially on social media. While trading their personal information for a game might seem like a good deal, they might regret it as a risk when they are older.

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