Young children spend twice as long looking at screens as they do playing outside, a study has found. By the time they reach the age of seven, children will have been looking at screens for the equivalent of 456 days – an average of four hours every day. But just 182 days, or an average of just over an hour and a half a day, will have been spent playing outdoors.
It also emerged more than half of a child’s screen time is described as “mindless” – spent without family or friends, in solitary, screen-based activities. The research, of 1,000 British and Irish parents of children aged up to seven, was conducted by Persil, and found three quarters have used a screen to entertain their youngsters so they can get on with other tasks. But six in 10 admit this behaviour, while convenient, could negatively affect their child’s creative thinking and ability to problem solve.
Sir Ken Robinson, a leading expert in education, creativity and human development and chair of the Good Child Development Advisory Board, said: “If you’re an adult now, how much time did you spend as a child playing outdoors, making up games on your own or with friends, dashing around, taking tumbles, all for the sheer fun of it?
“Until recently, children spent many hours every week on this sort of physical, imaginative, social play. “’Real play’ like this is not only enjoyable: it is vitally important in young lives. “Research has long shown that it has essential roles in the balanced development of all children and young people.”
The study also found 62 per cent of parents wish their children would spend more time playing outside as opposed to in front of a screen. More than four in 10 parents have even discovered their children using two screens at once. Persil is collaborating with the Outdoor Classroom Day initiative on 1 November that challenges schools to give at least one lesson outdoors, and celebrate the important of playtime. Sir Robinson added: “This latest research also shows that children now spend much less time on ‘real play’ than ever before. “One reason is the unprecedented amount of time they spend indoors looking at screens. “There are all kinds of attractions in using digital technologies, for pleasure, leisure work and education. “But there’s a downside and the catastrophic erosion of ‘real play’ is a major part of it. “This startling study is a call to action for parents; educators and policy makers to create real time and space for real play in the lives of all children.“