Exclusive: Computer and television screens are blighting family life, warns children’s tsar

Reg Bailey condemns too much time spent using technology, and not enough talking round the dinner table

Senior reporter

British parents are among those in Europe most likely to neglect their children, according to the Government’s childhood tsar.

Reg Bailey, who carried out a review into the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood for David Cameron, bemoaned the decline in time spent talking around the dinner table. Instead, parents are letting “screens take over” from family time, claimed the chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, who said the proliferation of smartphones and tablet computers is reducing the amount of “face-to-face time” that families spend together.

“It does worry me that the amount of time that parents spend with children in the UK is also one of the relatively lower ones within Europe,” he told The Independent. “I wonder if we are leaving children too much to their own devices as opposed to spending time with them, and therefore screens take over.”

Citing a recent Unicef study which examined the behaviour of families from the UK, Spain and Sweden by recording them in their homes, Mr Bailey said it was clear that British parents spent far less time talking to their children – and far more time in front of the television – than their European counterparts.

READ MORE: ‘I am terrified by what violent images do to our children’s minds’

“What was really noticeable was how few of the British families had a dining table or a kitchen table,” he said. “They tended to eat meals around the television on their laps, whereas both the Swedish and the Spanish families had a meal round the table and spent a lot of time just talking.”

He continued: “I think it perhaps tells you something about the amount of face-to-face time which is spent in British families. People talk sometimes about ‘quality time’, and actually I think most children don’t really need quality time. They need you to be there to talk informally all the time.”

Shortly after the Coalition came to power, Mr Bailey was commissioned to lead a review into how best to protect children from an increasingly sexualised society.

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