Young children losing the habit of reading with their parents

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The Independent Online

Children of primary school age spend more time on their own or playing with friends than they do in the company of their parents, according to research published today. Even mealtimes are squeezed into as little time as possible so that children can leave the table and watch television or play with their toys.

A survey of more than 1,800 parents also revealed that they spend more time reading on their own than they do reading with their parents. The survey, commissioned by Booktime, a programme set up to encourage parents to spend more time reading aloud to their children, paints a picture of a "loner" generation which spends more time in front of a television set than on any other activity.

On average, it says that children aged four to nine year spend 7 hours, 46 minutes a week watching television – more than twice as long as they spend sharing a book with an adult.

They spend 43 minutes a day on mealtimes – breakfast, lunch and dinner – but 18 per cent said that their children spent a total of just 17 minutes eating the three meals. And they do not hang around to do chores such as washing up, the report says. "It may be the rise of the 'whatever' generation or the fact that these children are too busy watching TV and playing, but it appears that helping mum and dad with simple chores comes bottom of the activity league for primary school children. Thirty-eight per cent of parents state that their children do not do any household chores.

"Primary school aged children spend the majority of their leisure time either alone or with friends rather than with family."

Over a year, the figures mean the average child will spend 16 days, 19 hours and 49 minutes in front of a television set; 15 days, 11 hours and 10 minutes playing outside; 15 days, 3 hours and 57 minutes playing with toys and 13 days, 3 hours and 16 minutes playing with friends.

Only 7 days, 9 hours and 40 minutes will be spent reading with an adult. In most cases, it is the mother who takes the lead in reading to her children – with 73 per cent of youngsters saying she was the main reader in the family compared with just 16 per cent who said their fathers took the lead role.

Sue Palmer, the author of Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children... And What We Can Do About it, said: "When parents are frantically juggling work and domestic responsibilities, children often rely on the TV for company. But what they really need is real-life contact with the loving adults in their lives – sharing and talking about a book together is a lovely way to provide this contact."

The research coincides with the launch by Booktime – set up through a partnership between the education publishing company Pearson and the independent charity Booktrust – under which every five-year-old will receive a free copy of a book upon arrival at reception class. The book is Funnybones by Allan Ahlberg, who has waived all royalties on the book for the scheme.

The survey did also find, though, that a growing number of would-be mothers are reading to their children in the womb (8 per cent compared to 5 per cent a year ago). And it found that the richer the father is, the more likely he is to read to his children. Twenty-one per cent of those on incomes of more than £50,000 a year read to their children, compared to just under 10 per cent of those earning less than £10,000.