Limit your own screen time, par­ents are urged

Min­is­ter says tech should be set aside by adults to help im­prove their chil­dren’s school skills

The Observer - - News - Michael Sav­age Pol­icy Edi­tor

Par­ents need to drag them­selves away from their smart­phones and tablets and en­sure that their young chil­dren are ready to learn at school, ac­cord­ing to the ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary.

Damian Hinds said that, while a lot of at­ten­tion had been placed on lim­it­ing the screen­time of chil­dren, adults also needed to make sure they were not glued to their phones and were pri­ori­tis­ing “one-to-one time with­out gad­gets”.

Hinds ad­mit­ted that he was prod­ding what he de­scribed as the “last taboo” in ed­u­ca­tion by urg­ing par­ents to en­sure their chil­dren were ready to thrive once they be­gan school. How­ever, he pointed to fig­ures sug­gest­ing that more than a quar­ter (28%) of chil­dren fin­ish their re­cep­tion year with­out the ba­sic early com­mu­ni­ca­tion or read­ing skills needed for them to progress.

“As a par­ent, I’m also con­scious that, while we think about screen time lim­its for chil­dren, we find it harder to limit it for our­selves – but that oneto-one time with­out gad­gets get­ting in the way is so valu­able,’ he said.

“The pres­sures of work and the mod­ern world mean putting phones away is far from easy, but it’s an im­por­tant area to talk about, par­tic­u­larly as we con­sider ways to sup­port par­ents with chil­dren’s learn­ing at home. This doesn’t mean tech­nol­ogy is the vil­lain of the piece – in­deed, if used well it can ac­tively sup­port learn­ing. Tech­nol­ogy is some­thing we must har­ness to use in our mis­sion to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, not some­thing that gets in the way.”

Re­cent re­search sug­gests that par­ents need “off-hours” from their de­vices just as much as their chil­dren. Ad­vice drawn up by aca­demics at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin School of Medicine and Pub­lic Health sug­gests that chil­dren learn smart­phone habits from their par­ents, mak­ing it im­por­tant to un­plug in favour of screen-free play­time. The find­ings are re­vealed amid re­ports that nan­nies are be­ing asked to sign con­tracts lim­it­ing so­cial me­dia dur­ing work hours.

Hinds will hold a sum­mit this week with busi­nesses, me­dia and tech­nol­ogy groups to find ways of en­cour­ag­ing par­ents to help with early learn­ing at home. The aim is to help them im­prove their child’s ba­sic com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, such as read­ing and singing. Min­is­ters have al­ready been work­ing with the Na­tional Lit­er­acy Trust and Save the Chil­dren to de­velop a set of rec­om­mended ac­tiv­i­ties for fam­i­lies, from play­ing with num­bers to songs and po­ems.

“As the vast ma­jor­ity of chil­dren’s time is spent at home, we need to think about how we sup­port par­ents with learn­ing in the home en­vi­ron­ment,” Hinds said.

“This could be seen as the last taboo in ed­u­ca­tion, and cer­tainly no one wants to be lec­tur­ing par­ents. But it is a per­sis­tent scan­dal that too many chil­dren are start­ing school un­able to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively, and we know that what hap­pens at home makes a big dif­fer­ence in that.”

Alamy

Par­ents on their own de­vices can’t give chil­dren the amount of help they need, says the ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary.

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