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