More than three quarters of British children under five have access to at least one device connected to the internet, up from less than a quarter ten years ago.
The annual survey by Childwise, a research agency, indicates that 76 per cent of children of pre-school age use technology including tablets, smartphones, PCs or laptops, compared with 23 per cent in 2009. Almost a third use a digital assistant such as Alexa or Siri. Two in five have their own connected device as do over half of those aged three to four.
There are widespread concerns about the possible harmful effects of screen time on children, and tech companies’ failure to protect them from damaging content. Politicians have pledged to bring in strict rules to hold companies to a legal “duty of care” for under-18s.
When the survey was started ten years ago one in five pre-schoolers had access to the internet. This year almost half of parents with under-fives agreed that their child discovered new digital content for themselves, with the numbers rising with age.
Under-fives spend more than two and a half hours a day watching videos or television, up from just over two hours in 2009, according to the survey. While a television is predominantly used, by the age of three children often prefer a tablet computer.
Netflix has overtaken YouTube as the most popular provider of on-demand pre-school television, used by 39 per cent of households, compared with 37 per cent for YouTube. Parents said Netflix was entertaining and child-friendly, while they had concerns about the allegedly addictive nature of YouTube.
Few parents admitted to not enjoying time outdoors with their child although this was more likely among those happy to give them connected devices. Twenty per cent of pre-school parents said they did not take pleasure in being outside with their child, rising to 27 per cent among those who gave their children tablets or phones.
Jenny Ehren, associate research director of Childwise, said: “Today’s preschoolers are confidently navigating digital platforms with purpose and determination. By the age of three, almost all watch programmes on-demand and have access to a connected device, and more than half have their own tablet or computer. The battle to forge a healthy digital lifestyle is now a very real consideration for parents of children this age.”
The survey found most children who accessed the internet did so via a tablet computer such as an iPad. Last year parents were asked why tablets were beneficial. Forty-seven per cent cited educational purposes, while the same proportion acknowledged that they kept their children occupied while they were busy.
Watching programmes and video clips was the most common activity on a tablet, with 70 per cent of children doing this. Only a third used tablets for drawing and colouring, and 17 per cent for reading stories.
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