Three-year-old children do not need the substitute parent of their own tablet computer, writes Jane Bradley.
Do you have your own tablet? I don’t. We have a single tablet in our house, shared amongst all of us.
Of course, there are other internet-connected devices around – phones, a laptop comupter, that kind of thing. But I do not have my own, state-of-the-art, personal iPad. This, according to the latest data out this week from Ofcom, makes me more technologically disadvantaged than almost a fifth of three and four-year-olds.
Yes, you read it right: 19 per cent of three and four-year-olds – barely more than babies – have their very own tablet, where they watch the likes of YouTube and CBeebies, play games and “go online”. I’m not sure what this means for this age group, exactly, considering that few three or four-year-olds will be able to read, let alone type something comprehensible into Google. However, I suppose people of any age can browse the web: some people believe it should be an official human right, after all.
Of the third of children of this age who play tablet games, the average child spends six-and-a-quarter hours a week doing so. Furthermore, one per cent of youngsters of this age have their own social media profiles, despite the age that youngsters are legally allowed to sign up to sites such as Facebook being 13.
And as children get older, the numbers inevitably get higher. The proportion of five to seven-year-olds who have their own tablet rockets, while the amount of time spent weekly playing games rises to over seven hours – that’s more than the length of an average school day.
By the age of eight to 11 – bearing in mind these youngsters are still at primary school – they play games for 10 hours a week and are “online” for a further 13.5 hours. I’m not against a computer game: they’re fun. Over the years, I’ve gone through phases of The Sims, Peggle Blast and some ancient one when I was a student that required me to build Roman cities, complete with olive groves and my own Colosseum. I know from personal experience the draw of such things – but I also know the brain-dead, exhausted state they leave you in if you play for too long. And for children, the effects are even more intense.
Baking guru Mary Berry recently revealed she limits her grandchildren’s screen time when they are on holiday together.
“It’s up to the parents and schools to be controlled and it should be controlled,” she said, adding that she makes her grandchildren hand her their electronic devices at 9am and she only returns them “after supper”.
Worryingly, the Ofcom survey showed that going online is becoming an increasing obsession among youngsters. The research found that older children are finding it harder to control their screen time than they were last year. The proportion of 12-15-year-olds who agreed they found it difficult to moderate their screen time has increased to a third, up from a quarter the year before. Meanwhile, seven-in-ten older children are allowed to take their mobile phone to bed, which impacts sleep and puts them at higher risk of online bullying – unknown to their parents, happily ensconced downstairs.
Bizarrely, use of internet-connected devices is a habit which is actively encouraged at school.
Even primary schools across Scotland are constantly fundraising to buy new iPads for their students, hoping that if the parent council stumps up enough funds, they will be able to increase the number of devices in each classroom from perhaps two or three to four or five. It is for some reason regarded as a strange mark of success that a school has iPads-a-plenty to hand round.
Yet, I question the educational use of these objects. They are used most regularly to entertain children through the guise of educational “games” – just a handful of kids at a time, of course, all crowded aroud the same screen – while another group is doing something else. Indeed, as they are at home, iPads are little more than educational babysitters, guaranteed to hold the kids’ attention for longer than a book or game. The argument that youngsters need access to tablets so that they have the knowledge of using them in this digital age is shaky at best. By the time today’s three and four-year-olds grow up and make a foray into the world of work, the iPad will be consigned to the National Museum and they will be using technology which is wired straight into their brains. Or something.
Not ‘allowing’ children to have to entertain themselves, by sticking them behind a screen as soon as their parental or educational “entertainer” is not available, stops them from knowing what it is to be bored, which many studies have shown is not beneficial to youngsters’ brains.
Interestingly, the survey found, live TV was revealed to be “parent-led” and often involved “appointment viewing” such as Strictly Come Dancing or The X-Factor, which the family watched together on a weekly basis. Whether you like these shows or you don’t, the concept of family time, even if it is family time watching a screen together, needs to be welcomed.
So sit down together in front of Strictly, by all means – but think about whether you really need to buy your three-year-old his own iPad.
Just think of all the money you could save if you don’t.