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Parents fear gadgets ‘eating into family time and damaging children’s health’

Online safety charity Internet Matters’ survey found parents have concerns about children’s digital habits (Alamy/PA)
Online safety charity Internet Matters’ survey found parents have concerns about children’s digital habits (Alamy/PA)

Parents are increasingly concerned that tech screen time is eating into family time and damaging children’s health, a study says, but children’s overall digital wellbeing is improving.

The annual study from online safety charity Internet Matters surveys 1,000 families on their digital habits.

Its latest report found parents have growing concerns that time on devices is cutting into traditionally family-oriented time, while 63% of parents asked also said they believe time spent online is negatively affecting their children’s health.

Some 50% said they were concerned that screen time was impacting on their children’s sleep.

However, the study found that overall, children’s digital wellbeing was improving, with rising numbers of young people noting they were experiencing the benefits of being online – such as feeling more confident and part of a group, more creative and more empowered.

But some concerning online activity was highlighted by the study – almost half of 15 and 16-year-old girls said strangers had tried to contact them, up from only three-in-10 in 2022.

In addition, two-thirds of children (67%) said they had experienced something online they would consider harmful.

Carolyn Bunting, co-chief executive of Internet Matters, said: “The impact of technology on children and family life is complex, bringing both benefits and concerns.

“Many parents are increasingly worried that tech devices are eating into family time and about screen time strains on their children’s physical health, sleep and concentration.

“The glowing blue light under the bedroom door is something many parents know all too well, and some children say they are unable to control how long they spend online.”

The annual report, titled Children’s Wellbeing in a Digital World 2024, found that rising numbers of parents were taking steps to monitor and mediate their children’s screen time and online activity, including using apps and parental control settings.

And 21% of those who do so said they managed their children’s screen time “a lot”.

“Parents need to ask how families can get the balance right between the time spent online and time spent offline, and whether they are always setting the best example for their children when it comes to using phones and other tech devices,” Ms Bunting said.

“We should, though, welcome the overall trend showing children’s digital wellbeing has improved.

“At its best, the online world is a brilliant source of inspiration, creativity and fun for children. It is also encouraging to see that there has been an increase in the proportion of parents taking steps to support children online.

“The recent passing of the Online Safety Act will be crucially important to increasing protection for children and young people.

“However, over two thirds of young people have told us that they experienced harm online, particularly girls.

“We should be alarmed that almost half of 15 to 16-year-old girls say they have been messaged or contacted by strangers.

“The impact of sexist and misogynistic influencers and communities continues to create a hostile online environment for many girls and young women.

“These challenges reinforce that there is no room for complacency, and that it cannot just be left to parents. There is still much work to be done to keep all our children safe online.”