A new generation hooked on digital content is shunning traditional playtime in favour of watching TV and surfing the internet, according to new research from uSwitch.com, the independent comparison and switching service. The report also reveals a high proportion of children using the internet and watching TV unsupervised in their bedrooms after being sent to bed, while an alarming number of parents have yet to set up the necessary control measures to protect them from viewing unsuitable content.
In a typical day, outside of school hours children spend an average of 1.4 hours online and 1.6 hours watching television. Not only does this mean that they are spending 3 hours a day staring at a screen, but it suggests that surfing the internet is set to take over from watching TV as the most popular children’s recreational activity.
But where does this leave old fashioned playtime, and are we creating a new generation of internet addicts? Children today have a plethora of digital distractions whether they are in the form of games consoles such as the Wii, or social networking sites such as Bebo, with traditional playtime all but lost. Worryingly, 29% of children now have a computer in their bedroom and almost two thirds (63%) of these use it before going to sleep. Similarly, nearly half (49%) have a TV in their room and 64% regularly watch this in bed.
Despite nearly a third (30%) of parents worrying about information or images that they have found their child looking at on a website or on TV, just 41% of parents always supervise their children using the internet and 11% never do. Over half of parents (55%) leave it up to their children to decide which websites to visit, based on either guidelines they have set or common sense.
Taking the issue of parental control extremely seriously, all major broadband companies offer filtering facilities in their broadband packages, usually for free, enabling parents to have more control over the information and images viewed by their children. Yet over a third of parents (34%) have not set up any filters or blocks on their home internet: 22% believe that it’s too time consuming, and a further 21% simply haven’t got round to setting it up. A third of parents (32%) are unaware of the parental control features available with their service.
Jason Glynn, communications expert at uSwitch.com, says: “In an age where engaging content such as on-demand TV will only increase the amount of hours our children spend online, we urge parents to contact their internet providers to see what controls are available to them. Speed and price should take second place to safety – but with most broadband services including filtering software for free, there really is no excuse not to take action.
“We fully support the measures being laid out by companies to help families tackle this issue, such as TalkTalk’s plans to classify websites with U, PG, 14 and 18 certificates. Our research shows that 8 out of 10 parents would back such a system.”