Is the rapid decline of children’s TV programming potentially putting our young children’s health at risk as they increasingly turn to their electronic devices for their entertainment? Chris Price reports
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.
A Survey by OnBuy discovers that 77% of parents would prefer their child to watch TV regularly instead of playing on a tablet while 94% of parents think children spend far too much time on their electronic devices.
Other startling statistics are that 25% of under three year olds have their own media device and that 3-4 year olds spend 8 hours and 18 minutes on electronic devices, per week.
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.
Dramatic rise in technology use
Research conducted by OFCOM has shown that the use of technology amongst children has increased over the last few years, particularly for younger children.
In 2015, toddlers aged around three to four years old spent on average 6 hours and 48 minutes per week on electronic devices, which soared to 8 hours and 18 minutes last year – an increase of 26%.
For children aged between five and 15 years old, the average time also increased substantially, from 13 hours and 42 minutes in 2015 to 15 hours in 2016, last year. This is a stark increase from 1995, when screen time was just a mere three hours.
Spoilt for choice
With the number of apps available for children to play on the Apple ‘App Store’ and Android’s ‘Google Play’; children today are spoilt for choice.
According to statistics released by Statista, in the space of two years (January 2015 to 2017), apps on the App Store grew by almost one million alone. In June, this year, the Apple App Store had 2,200,000 apps on offer, and Google Play had even more – a staggering 3,000,000.
No wonder then that children favour electronic devices over television when there are so many apps readily available at the click of a button!
In its survey, 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 it 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) in order 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
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” are labelled as being ‘healthy’ by paediatricians.
Indeed the Nightingale Hospital, located in central London, has treated children as young as 12 years old for ‘technology addiction’ while 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?
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 claims that over the next three years £31.4m of their budget will be spent online, in order to combat competition from American broadcasters such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
New content will include videos, live online programme extensions, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, quizzes, guides, games and apps to appeal to younger generations that are becoming more “tech savvy”. Whether that’s too little, too late for the next generation of technology addicts remains to be seen.