The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Study lays bare technology trap for children

Technology is destroying traditional family life as young adolescents increasingly spend more time in their bedrooms playing computer games, surfing the Internet or watching television, videos and DVDs, a study released on Friday claims.

Where the living room used to be the hub of the home, now more and more 11- to 14-year-olds prefer to be alone in their technology-filled bedrooms, communicating with friends via mobile phone texting or e-mail.

And, as Britons become more obsessed with technology, the sense of family is likely to diminish further, says the consumer report from Mintel.

Seventy-seven per cent of children aged between 11 and 14 have a television in their bedrooms, and 64 per cent have their own DVD players or video recorders, it found. One in four also has a computer in his or her room.

Computer game consoles also prove popular, with 66 per cent playing computer games in their rooms and as many as one in three only ever playing computer games on their own. At least one in four boys spends more than 15 hours a week playing with computer game consoles.

This wealth of technology means that a significant number of children are not experiencing family life.

Three out of five 11- to 14-year-olds say everyone at home is free to get on with their lives and interests, and 53 per cent say that as long as they do well at school, they can do what they like. A similar proportion — 51 per cent — say they prefer spending time on their own.

“Many of today’s children do now seem to be experiencing greater isolation from family life,” said Jenny Catlin, a consumer analyst at Mintel.

“There is no doubt that family make-up has changed dramatically over the past few decades as children may now have older parents, fewer siblings and many more live in single-parent families or step-families. But these changes do not necessarily mean that families should not still spend time together.

“Sadly, it does seem that in many cases modern technology has now replaced the family unit so that everyone does whatever they want when they want, even if it means doing it on their own.”

One of the most popular pastimes is watching television, and children with televisions in their bedrooms are particularly likely to have access to non-terrestial television — satellite, cable and or digital — which suggests to researchers that parents who are themselves particularly keen on television are most prone to allowing their offspring to have their own sets, possibly to protect their own viewing preferences.

The most popular programmes are comedies, cartoons, pop music shows and soap operas, the study shows.

There has been a particularly large leap in the number of video and DVD players in children’s bedrooms and three quarters of those questioned watch bought or hired videos or DVDs for at least one hour each week.

Eighty-two per cent have their own radios, while six out of 10 in the age range have their personal CD players. While one in four has a computer in their room, this number is likely to increase. “A possible scenario could be that as more parents who are first-time computer owners begin upgrading their machines, they relegate their previous computers to their children’s rooms,” the report says.

Ninety-two per cent said they accessed the Net on their computers and used them for school work. Seven out of 10 preferred to use them for playing games while four out of 10 regularly sent e-mails. Only 15 per cent accessed chat sites.

The most dramatic change over the past three years, however, has been the mobile phone. Some 80 per cent of 11- to 14-year-olds now have their own mobiles with most parents paying the bills.

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