“Digital Childhood”: Children as young as 12 treated at London hospital for ‘technology addiction’
Children’s entertainment has transformed significantly over the years. At present, 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.
As a result, researchers studying the behaviour of children have indicated that children are growing up in a “digital childhood”.
According to a survey produced by Tech and Play in 2015, one quarter (25%) of under three year olds had their own media device, such as a tablet or games console, and 37% of three to five year olds also had their own device. Older children, aged between five and 15 years old, are most likely to have the most access to electronic devices.
Research conducted by OFCOM has shown that the use of technology amongst children has increased significantly over the last few years. In 2016, it was found that children aged 3-4 spend on average 8 hours and 18 minutes on electronic devices per week, a 26% increase from the previous year.
Onbuy.com sought to establish a relationship between the rise of digital usage by children and the decline in children’s television programmes. OnBuy sampled parents, with children up until 15 years old, and asked why they allowed their young children to play on electronic devices, particularly tablets.
According to the research collected, 64% of parents would prefer television corporations, such as the BBC, to spend money on children’s television, rather than electronic applications (such as BBC Cbeebies or Go CBBC) to prevent addiction. Consequently, 77% of parents would favour their children to watch TV shows, instead of playing on electronic devices for hours on end.
When Onbuy.com 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%)
• Convenient for parents to keep their child entertained and quiet whilst they complete
chores, cook or work (33%)
OnBuy’s investigation into the ‘digital childhood’ is indicative of OFCOM’s research which illustrates how only one in 10 toddlers of the so-called “iPad generation” 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’. 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, a chiropractor has claimed.
Is the decline of children’s television programmes to blame for this ‘digital childhood’?
Onbuy.com found that due to the rise in technology, there has been an apparent decline in children’s programming times on TV. Children’s programme schedules for major channels, per year, has decreased considerably in 17 years – with ITV showing the sharpest decline:
• ITV – 1998: 424 | 2015: 42
• Channel 5 – 1998: 353 | 2015: 30
• Channel 4 – 1998: 49 | 2015: 0
Additionally, according to OFCOM, 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.
What is being done to solve the problem?
Onbuy has identified that according to the BBC, over the last six years, the number of children watching television programmes has dropped by more than one quarter. In an attempt to revive children’s television, the BBC unveiled that they will invest more money into children’s TV as part of the BBC's first Annual Plan, with the budget reaching £124.4m by 2019-20, up from the current figure of £110m.