Children in this day and age have become accustomed to having a multitude of technological devices at their feet. From smartphones to tablets, they are at the forefront of the technological revolution. Despite today’s children being more savvy and connected than ever before, have they become overly-dependent on these devices? More importantly, what do parents think and feel about their children’s reliance on technology? Is there an apparent disconnect between their expectation and reality of what children are really using technology for?

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Our Survey

Recent research has found that 31% of children feel obliged to check their smartphone every few minutes. This ‘fear of missing out’ is on the rise, among many children. Other studies has also shown that 54% of families admit to letting their children use technology for a monumental 32 hours per week.

At Onbuy.com we surveyed 686 parents from across the UK to find out their current attitude towards their children’s technology usage. All the parents who participated in the survey have children aged between 5 and 16. They were asked a series of questions, which included questions about their children’s behaviour with technology, and their views on their children’s usage.

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The Findings

Through our series of questions, the survey revealed that 76% of parents astonishingly feel their children have become overly-dependent on technology in their day-to-day lives. Moreover, when parents where asked what they expected their children to use it for, the majority (36%) stated they expected it to be used for educational content. This was followed by videos/movies (20%) and then social media (18%). Despite this, what parents found their children using their technological devices for contrasted their perceived expectations. In fact, 40% of parents found their children used their devices mostly for social media. Social media was then followed by gaming (24%) and then music (16%).

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Furthermore, parents where asked whether they did or did not restrict the use of their children’s technological devices in six different situations. The situations are ones that occur on a regular basis in the home. Interestingly, 44% of parents restricted the use of phones and tablets in restaurants. The second environment in which parents (38%) where most likely to restrict their children’s use of technological devices was during home family meals – this included breakfast/lunch/dinner. And only 2% of parents would restrict their children using these devices when at the doctors or dentists etc.

56% of parents citied their children were now ‘more curious’, indicating one of the positive impacts of the technology revolution. On the other hand, 52% citied ‘lower concentration level’s’ as the principle negative effect of technology on their children. Our last question was regarding the trade-off that many children currently seem to make with their time. Frighteningly, 82% of parents stated that their children spend more time on their technological devices then they do doing their homework or reading.

Parents Perspectives

Lisa, from Leeds, who is a mother of two boys aged 11 and 13 commented:

“Both my boys have a mobile phone and tablet each. When we initially purchased them, apart from the communicational aspects, we thought they would be a good device to assist them with their educational studies. Whilst they do occasionally browse the internet to help them with their homework, their primary use of the tablet is to be on social media and watch videos. It’s often very difficult to have their full attention because of their fixation with their phones and tablets. This has negatively impacted the quality of our family time and therefore, we have begun to restrict the use of their devices during any meals we have together. We are also going to limit the amount of time they spend on their devices every day, so they can focus more on their homework. We have begun to realise the importance of quantifying the amount of time our children spend on these devices, especially to avoid the point where they become highly disinterested in interacting with others”.

Barry, Portsmouth, father to a 15 year old girl reported that:

“The times we live in are very different. Children these days are so encapsulated by having the latest phone or ensuring they are frequently active on social media. Unfortunately, children therefore tend to gravitate towards these devices, which they think will make them cooler; if not happier. Having a young daughter of my own, I realise the impact technology has on her life. She often becomes overly reliant on these devices and it tends to affect her interest in verbally communicating with others and motivation to do other things such as reading or going out to see friends. To prevent this from spiralling further, we actively decided to limit the amount of time she spends on her devices and we have seen an improvement in her efforts to do more productive things”.

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Expert Opinion

Mary Piper a Senior Technology Analyst from London commented: “I don’t necessarily think technology is bad for children. In a sense, they are very lucky to be brought up in a world where they can access information and do multiple things at the touch of a few buttons. What parents need to carefully manage is the amount of time their children spend on their devices. If children are spending large amounts of time on their mobile phones or tablets, there is a high risk of them becoming heavily dependent on them. This dependence usually tends to correlate to less verbal communication and a lower frequency of social interactions. If they set usage boundaries, then their children will understand the boundaries of use. Essentially, in the process, slowly eradicating any reliance they have developed for their devices in their daily lives”.

Jamie Cole a Family Relations Coach from Manchester commented: “Largely due to the prominent rise of social media, children have a huge desire to stay connected with one another. In order to do so, they find themselves drawn to their screens for hours on end. It’s not only social media – gaming, music and television programmes are contributing to what children use their devices for. If parents set rules in place as and when these devices can be used, parents are not only micro-managing their children’s interaction with technology but facilitating an environment which teaches them the value of face-to-face interactions and building meaningful relationships”.