A new report from Ofcom is warning that children are so obsessed with the internet that they are ditching their friends and hobbies. In addition, many parents admitted that they have lost control of their children’s online habits.
The researchers wrote: “Children were watching people on YouTube pursuing hobbies that they did not do themselves or had recently given up offline.”
The annual survey, which was based on more than 2,000 interviews, revealed that children under five years old spend more than four hours a day in front of a television, tablet, or computer screen. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 were found to spend an average of five hours a day glued to a screen.
The study authors referred to YouTube as “a near permanent feature” of many young people’s lives. They also discovered that 70 percent of youths aged 12 to 15 are taking smartphones to bed.
“In the early years, children need interaction with other people, and play – it is key to their social skills,” said Sue Palmer of the group Toxic Childhood. “If that doesn’t happen when they are small, I don’t know where it leads. There is the screen time itself, and then there is what the screen time is displacing.”
The study revealed that 20 percent of preschoolers and 40 percent of children between 5 and 8 years old own a tablet. Meanwhile, 20 percent of children aged 8 to 12 have social media accounts.
The time children spend watching television is declining, while the time they spend online is skyrocketing. Many are turning to YouTube to spend hours watching tutorials and “unboxing” videos. The Ofcom report said that some kids are becoming so obsessed with YouTube celebrities that they idolize them as role models.
Many children were found to watch the lifestyle “vloggers” pursuing hobbies and interacting with friends instead of doing so themselves. Some of the young people interviewed by Ofcom had actually given up their own hobbies in order to watch YouTube videos.
Furthermore, children who go online to watch innocent videos are often stumbling upon disturbing material. Some of the parents who were interviewed were shocked to found out what their children had been watching.
The researchers found that children prefer YouTube to television because they “could easily access exactly what they wanted to watch and were being served with an endless stream of recommendations tailored exactly to their taste.”
Around 40 percent of parents with children between the ages of 5 and 15 believed that they were being pressured to spend money online. In addition, half of the parents worried about tech firms harvesting too much information about their children.
The full Ofcom report on media use by children can be found here.
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