Children's entertainment over the years has transformed significantly. In this day and age, children are more likely to use the internet than any other generation, with OFCOM (Office of Communications) reporting that internet usage has overtaken television for the first-time as the top media pastime, for children in the UK. Researchers studying the behaviour of children have indicated that children are in a "digital childhood", and therefore becoming more and more addicted to technology.
According to a survey produced by Tech and Play (2015), one quarter (25%) of under three year olds have their own media device, such as a tablet or games console, and 37% of three to five year olds. The clear majority of the remainder of children share use with other family members and friends, which is likely to be high because a large number of household's own tablets. However, older children aged between five and 15 years old are most likely to have the most access to electronic devices. In a 2014 survey by OFCOM, 7 in 10 children aged between five and 15 used a tablet often, which is likely to have soared even further today.
Research conducted by OFCOM has shown that the use of technology amongst children has increased over the last few years, particularly for younger 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 increased substantially, from 13 hours and 42 minutes in 2015 to 15 hours in 2016, last year. This is a stark increase from 1995, when screen time was just a mere three hours. As a result, this highlights that children are becoming increasingly addicted to electronics and technology, emphasising the claim that youngsters are living in a "digital childhood".
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With the number of apps available for children to play on the Apple 'App Store', via an Apple iPad, and Android's 'Google Play'; children today are spoilt for choice. 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. In June, this year, the Apple App Store had 2,200,000 apps on offer, and Google Play devices had even more - a staggering 3,000,000. It is no wonder children favour electronic devices over television when there are so many apps readily available at the click of a button.
Research by OFCOM has suggested that, due to this increase in technology use, a staggering 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', and schools are even calling for treatment of children as young as eight years old. Additionally, 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.
Furthermore, staring at a screen, such as an electronic device, can arguably have adverse effects on the brain and concentration. Technology has profound impacts on the way children think and feel, and since technology is full of stimuli and often requires paying attention to many different things at once. Children who spend the majority of their childhood online tend to have less of an ability to focus than youngsters who use technology minimally. In a recent article in The Times, British novelist and journalist Howard Jacobson revealed that even he — a man who once liked nothing better than to curl up with "300 densely packed pages" of a late Henry James novel — could no longer focus on a book because his concentration had been "shot" by screens.
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We conducted a survey with a sample of parents with children up until 15 years old. The parents were asked why they allowed their young children to play on electronic devices, particularly tablets, often. According to the research collected, 64% of parents would prefer money to be spent on children's television rather than electronic applications, to prevent youngsters from becoming too addicted to tablets and games consoles. Therefore, 77% of parents would favour their children to watch TV shows instead of playing on electronic devices for hours on end.
When Onbuy asked parents why they allowed their children to play on tablets and game consoles for long periods of time, over the course of a week, 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 an apparent decline in children's programming times on TV on major channels, such as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. In 1998, repeats of children's TV shows made up 38% of children's television, however in 2011, the figure rose sharply to 91%, according to research by OFCOM. As well as this, programming schedules among major channels have decreased considerably – 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 in 2015 to 42 hours. 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.
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According to the BBC, over the last six years, children's viewing of television programmes has dropped by more than a quarter. BBC children's channel, CBBC – aimed at six to twelve year olds – has seen a marked drop in its audience over recent years, and children that do often watch television programmes are choosing to watch on BBC iPlayer from an electronic device (e.g. tablet) instead. Children are choosing not to watch TV frequently anymore due to viewing habits evolving, thus meaning that children's television channels need to come up with new content, such as shorter shows, interactive content and children's games to keep youngsters interested and engaged.
In an attempt to revive the children's sector, last month, the BBC unveiled it will invest more money into children's TV 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. However, this is not as high as the budget children's programming had in 2005 at a jaw-dropping £140 million. The BBC claim in three years, £31.4m of their budget will be spent online, in order to combat competition from American broadcasters such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. New content will include videos, live online programme extensions, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games and apps to appeal to younger generations that are becoming more "tech savvy".