Computer time is modern parents’ bribe and threat

Computer argumentsBBC News 22 January 2015
The Childwise survey, which has been tracking family life in the UK since the 1990s, shows a surge in the number of tablet computers used by children.

But it suggests that parents use time on tablet computers as a way of rewarding or punishing their children.

The study shows young people spend more time online than watching television.

This latest report from Childwise, the 21st annual survey, shows children’s lives suffused with technology, using tablet computers, laptops, videogames and smartphones.

Tablets ‘modern treat’  
The study, based on a representative sample of more than 2,000 children across the UK, aged 5 to 16, shows that two of the most popular destinations are YouTube and the online game Minecraft.

The use of tablet computers is overtaking laptops among young children, says the survey – and it suggests they have become important bargaining chips in family negotiations

“Parents like tablets because they are controllable – a tablet can be given or taken away to reflect good or bad behaviour, in a way that is not possible with a conventional television set or computer,” says the research.

“Apps can be purchased as rewards, and, with the growing use of tablets in primary schools, there are strong perceived educational advantages.”

Research director Simon Leggett says tablet computers are particularly likely to be seen as the young person’s personal possession, making the arguments about restrictions even more fraught.

Access to the internet is now so integrated into young people’s lives, he says, that they see access as a fundamental right rather than a privilege.

This will strike a chord with many families, suggests Cathy Ranson, editor of the Netmums parenting website.

“Banning screen time is the modern version of “grounding” kids,” she said.

She said a study of Netmums users had found many parents using limits on computers as a punishment or reward, replacing “traditional treats”.

But she warned that too much emphasis on access to screen time could prioritise computers “to the exclusion of real family life”.

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