Tech-savvy children ‘no longer communicate with families’

A family tries out the devices at an Apple store
A family tries out the devices at an Apple store
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More than half of parents worry that their children’s use of technology affects their interactions with friends and family, a survey has found.

A third of children aged seven to 17 check their phone for messages several times an hour and 64 per cent use their devices in bed, according to the Halifax Digital Home Index.

The study found that a child owns an average of £924 worth of electronic devices, while almost a third of seven to eight-year-olds (31 per cent) and nearly two-thirds of nine to 11-year-olds (63 per cent) now own a mobile phone.

Devices are being used at the dinner table, the traditional preserve of face-to-face family time, by a third of parents and more than a third of their children (36 per cent), and even when children are under the same roof as family members, 37 per cent of children use technology to communicate with them.

The increasing reliance on technology for communication is a worry for over half of parents (60 per cent), the study found.

Some 30 per cent of children however blame their parents’ obsession with devices for setting a bad example.

Educational psychologist Dr Kairen Cullen said: “Modern technology is part of contemporary life and naturally this is reflected in the way families operate. However, it is becoming clear that a number of children and young people use technology excessively.

“Parents now have to adapt to a different climate of communication and work hard to ensure open and meaningful conversations with their children, who have grown up with instant messaging and social media.

“Virtual communication is never going to substitute face-to-face family contact though, and parents are well placed to encourage sensible and balanced use of online facilities in a way that includes time fully offline and supports family dynamics.”

But there is no need to panic about the use of devices by children, says Dr Helen Kennedy, senior lecturer in New Media in the Institute of Communications Studies at the University of Leeds, who believes there is little proof that their use is stunting children’s communication skills.

“I think the societal ill is thinking that these trends are seen a societal ill,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s helpful for technological change to be seen as a problem. We need to think of the benefits and pleasures of using technology and I think the grown up generation needs to recognise this.

“I’m a parent of two children, aged seven and 11, and the eldest in particular loves his devices and I don’t think it’s the case that it inhibits their ability to communicate. They use the devices to communicate with each other, whether it’s through Facebook or FaceTime on their phones.”

Opinium Research surveyed 1,001 UK parents of children aged seven to 17 and 1,001 UK children aged seven to 17 from the same family between January 28 and February 4 to produce their findings.