A quarter of UK children aged seven to 17 are free to use their devices exactly how and when they want – totally free from any restrictions imposed by their mum and dad, according to new, independent research from CHILDWISE, a market research agency specialising in projects involving children and young people.
Overall, most parents do set rules for their children with three in five having a rule or limit on the use of at least one of their devices.
However, the study also finds that where there are restrictions, many adults still fail to set a good example and are on their devices all the time or at night.
“A vocal minority of children weren’t impressed with their parents’ use of devices, with some children going as far as branding their screen-addicted adults ‘hypocrites’ for flouting the very rules they expect their offspring to follow,” says Dr Helena Dare-Edwards, Senior Research Manager at CHILDWISE.
“We looked in-depth at parental rules for using devices and whether children considered them fair or not. We found that while most children have restrictions, there are a lot of children who just have a free-for-all with their devices.”
Children reported that in general, any rules they face cover exactly when and where phones, tablets and gaming devices can be used. The study shows that more than half of kids are restricted from using devices at meal times and just over a third banned at bedtime.
One in six kids surveyed felt their parents weren’t setting a good example with their own screen use. Some children even reported feeling ignored or second priorities to their parents’ devices.
The CHILDWISE Playground Buzz report asked 1,645 children age 7 to 17, a series of questions about screen time rules, including limits on using devices, whether they think the rules are fair and whether their parents set a good example and follow the rules.
“We found that the majority of children have rules and are happy with them. This finding follows earlier research that found that most children actually want their parents to control how and when they use devices rather than allow them free reign,” said Dare-Edwards. “Kids know the rules are there for their own good, even if they don’t always like them.”
When children were asked whether they thought the rules they faced were fair, most agreed they were (seven in ten), including more than two in five who agreed they were very fair. Agreement was fairly steady by age and gender. Just six per cent considered the rules very unfair.
However, the results also showed that some parents seem to be flouting the rules they’ve set out for their kids.
“A significant minority of children think their parents are not setting a good example, with almost half of this group saying this is because they are on their devices all the time and one in three implying that their parents are hypocrites – setting rules for their children but not following the same rules. Just under one in ten specifically used the word ‘hypocrite’,” advised Dare-Edwards.
“A small, but vocal, minority say that their parents are on – or even addicted to – their devices so much that they’re inattentive and distracted, with some children going as far as saying that they feel ignored or second priorities to their parents’ devices,” she added.
Another small minority of children said their parents are failing to set a good example because they haven’t set any screen time rules for them at all – or any rules are too lax.
One 16-year-old girl who took part in the study said that her parents were constantly on their devices and they “ignore me when I talk to them and shout and get angry at me if I mention putting them down”.
Another participant, a 14-year-old boy, told researchers: “My mum will tell me to get off my phone and go to bed, then she plays on Candy Crush for two hours.”
But some children also reported their parents were prioritising family life. An 11-year-old girl said that her parents, “aren’t always glued to their phones like most people. Instead, they focus on important things that affect them in a good way and always try spending as much time with me as they can”.
The report findings include: