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Are Kids addicted to technology

Tech Addicted Kids: The generation that doesn’t know life before technology

How children entertain themselves has changed dramatically over the last few decades since the birth of the digital age. The rise of technology has seen fewer youngsters outside, and more on their tech devices indoors.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, screen time among kids surged to new heights and as a result, many parents grew worried about children addicted to screens and its impact on their health. With lots of discussion on the negative effects of technology, including obesity, sleep problems, chronic neck and back problems, depression, anxiety as well as many other health conditions, we wanted to find out the impact of technology on our children.

At Lenstore we’ve analysed metrics such as child obesity, daily time spent on the internet and the level of physical activity for children to find out where in the world the most tech-addicted kids live. 

We've also taken a look at how the level of physical activity among British children has changed over the years, as well as how often they are going outside to play.

The United Arab Emirates ranks in first place with the most tech-addicted kids

Screen addiction is a term that parents are strongly concerned about in young children. However, as there is no official medical diagnostic, defining screen addiction can be difficult. 

But there are some characteristics that can be signs that a child is heading in that direction. Our research looks into various data to find where in the world kids just can’t put down their tech devices.

Rank

Country

2025 Child Obesity Prevalence Prediction

Daily Time on the Internet (Hrs)

Sedentary

Behaviours Score *

Overall Child Physical Activity Score*

Overall Score

1

United Arab Emirates

18%

7:24

9

17

3.70

2

United States of America

27%

7:11

11

12

4.17

3

Brazil

12%

10:08

12

11

4.33

4

New Zealand

19%

6:39

11

12

4.74

5

China

9%

5:22

17

17

4.90

6

Australia

15%

6:13

12

12

5.17

7

Mexico

17%

9:00

12

10

5.23

8

Belgium

8%

5:28

8

17

5.36

9

Thailand

11%

8:44

12

12

5.41

10

Germany

10%

5:26

12

12

5.56

*Each country was awarded a score from 1 to 18. The higher the number, the worse sedentary behaviour or physical activity was deemed to be. 

It turns out children in the UAE are most addicted to their phones. Due to a poor physical activity score of 17 (this score shows a low % of UAE children meeting the guideline of 60 minutes of physical activity every day) and reaching a high daily internet time of over 7 hours, the Western Asia country has an overall score of just 3.70.

In second place is the United States. The country has 12,528 nature and wildlife spots available for the youth to explore and play in. Despite this, the nation’s obesity rate is rising and is predicted to have a child obesity rate of 27% by the year 2025. With a sedentary behaviour mark of 11, less than half of U.S. children adhere to the recommended 2 hours or less of screen time per day.

Rounding off the top three is Brazil. 94% of the population are on the internet, spending over 10 hours surfing the web each day. The country’s child obesity rate is also rising and has been forecasted to reach 12% by 2025. With an overall physical score of 11 and a sedentary behaviour mark of 12 less than half of Brazilian children are following the recommended exercise or screen time guidelines.

At the other end of the scale is India. With an overall score of 8.1, here is where you will find the kids less addicted to their tech devices. Known for picturesque cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur, the rate of child obesity is falling in this nation, thus it has been estimated to have a child obesity rate of 2% by 2025. The South Asia country has received a 9 score for sedentary behaviours, which indicates nearly half of Indian youths are meeting the screen time advice.

Ellie Caudwell Casey, the mother of two boys aged 8 and 11, discusses the difficulties of striking a balance with screen time: 

I have such a love-hate relationship with screen time as far as my kids are concerned. We didn't have a TV, and when they were preschoolers I put a lot of time and effort into limiting their access to screens by offering lots of alternatives. However, everything changed during the pandemic, when screens became something really necessary for educating the children and keeping ourselves sane. 

Suddenly we went from a family that was busy with real life activities to a family racking up hours and hours and hours of screen time per week. And now the lockdown restrictions have been lifted? You'd think we'd be raring to get back to our old ways, but the truth is the children are now completely addicted to screens, and it feels like a constant battle to get them off. They watch far more than I'd like them to, and it's something that worries me.

Some of what they're doing on screens is positive, and that's where the problem is. They chat to friends, log in to their Google Classroom, watch educational content. But they also watch hours and hours of rubbish. And although we all need our downtime and life doesn't need to be productive all the time, it's too much.

British children are spending less of their screen time watching TV 

For many years, television reigned supreme in kids’ screen time. But in recent years, children are gravitating away from TV, preferring to watch online videos instead.

By examining Ofcom’s Children and Parents Media Use and Attitude report over the years, we can see that there has been a decline in the amount of time children spend watching TV. In 2017, children between the ages of 3 – 4 years old spent 780 hours a year watching telly - that works out to be a whole month of watching TV. This figure dropped by 7% in 2018 to 728 hours, and then a further 9% in 2019 to 660 hours.

In its place, toddlers have picked the habit of watching YouTube videos. On average spending a total of 421 hours on the video-sharing platform in 2019. That’s a weekly average of 8 hours and 6 minutes a week on the video-sharing platform in 2019.

 

Hours spent watching TV a year

Age

2017

2018

2019

3 - 4 years old

780

728

660

5 - 7 years old

702

689

577

8 - 11 years old

728

676

546

12 - 15 years old

754

689

614

Other age groups have also seen a decrease in the amount of time spent watching TV. With a 25% decline from 2017, those aged 8 – 11 years have seen the biggest drop in the time spent sitting in front of the television. This is followed by 12 - 15 year olds who have had a 19% fall and then 5 - 7 year olds who have seen an 18% decline.

Although this age group has not seen the biggest decline in the hours spent watching TV, children between the ages of 12 – 15 years are spending the most time watching YouTube. Viewing at least 11 hours a week on video platforms. That’s a total of 24 days!

But it’s not just television we see children shying away from — it’s also video games.

 

Hours spent playing video games a year

Age

2017

2018

2019

3 - 4 years old

312

325

244

5 - 7 years old

390

390

328

8 - 11 years old

520

520

494

12 - 15 years old

624

715

603

At first, between 2017 and 2018 the weekly time spent playing video games increased from 12 hours to 13 hours and 45 minutes in kids aged 12 – 15 years olds. However, in 2019 that figure dropped by 16% in 2019 to 11 hours and 26 minutes. 

But it’s youngsters between the ages of 3 – 4 years old who have seen the biggest decrease overall. In 2017, toddlers were spending up to 6 hours a week playing video games, this number drastically declined by 22% in 2019 to just 4 hours and 42 minutes a week.

Michelle Eshkeri, CEO of Let ME Write & children's book author and mother of two, spoke to Lenstore about not restricting screen time in her boys and the positive outcome of it. 

Imposing screen time limits on teenagers leads to a lot of unhelpful conflicts. Teenagers need to learn how to self-regulate and make good decisions about their health and wellbeing with support. 

If a parent is constantly making decisions for their teen, then when they do become an adult and have to make those decisions themselves, it can be overwhelming. I believe that parents need to support their teenagers to make good decisions without imposing controls that prohibit the child from feeling like they have some control over their life.

As a result of allowing my son to be in control of his screen time, he learned to self regulate and his sleeping improved. In addition, he gained a lot of transferable skills that enabled him to set up his own little business running a Discord server and to gain an apprenticeship in Digital Marketing.

Kids are becoming less active with less than half are meeting physical activity guidelines

Being physically active is important for the development of skills as well as muscle and bone strengthening in children. According to Gov.uk, active children are healthier, happier and sleep better than children that aren’t active. Staying active can also have a positive contribution to young people's brain development and learning, as well as build their confidence and social skills.

The Gov.uk website states that children from the ages of 0 – 5 years old should be encouraged to be active for at least 180 minutes a day, whilst those 5 – 18 years old should aim for at least 60 minutes daily.

However, a study by Sport England found that just over four in 10 children and young people are achieving 60+ minutes of exercise daily. While one in three children were active for less than 30 minutes a day.

The table below shows which percentage of children in each year group are achieving 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day.

School year

2017-18

% achieving 60 minutes of exercise daily

2018-19
% achieving 60 minutes exercise daily

2019-20

% achieving 60 minutes of exercise daily

Overall

43%

47%

45%

5 – 7 year olds

49%

52%

46%

7 – 9 year olds

38%

43%

38%

9 – 11 year olds

45%

49%

45%

11 – 13 year olds

48%

51%

51%

13 – 16 year olds

39%

41%

45%

With 51% of children typically aged between 11 – 13 achieving daily exercise of 60 minutes or more during the term year 2019/20, this group were found to be the most active. On the other hand, the data showed that children aged between 7 – 9  to be the least active. Only 38% of children in this age bracket were found to be active for 60 minutes or more each day — the majority were physically active for less than 30 minutes a day (39%). This in fact is a 15% increase from the previous year, which saw 34% of kids between the ages of  7 – 9  achieving less than 30 minutes of exercise.

Take a look below to see the percentage of each year group achieving less than 30 minutes of exercise a day.

School year

2017-18 

% achieving 30 minutes or less of exercise daily 

2018-19 

% achieving 30 minutes or less of exercise daily 

2019-20

% achieving 30 minutes or less daily

Overall

33%

29%

31%

5 – 7 year olds

21%

18%

25%

7 – 9 year olds

40%

34%

39%

9 – 11 year olds

34%

30%

34%

11 – 13 year olds

30%

27%

28%

13 – 16 year olds

37%

34%

31%

Although children aged 7 – 9 weren't the only group to see a decrease in physical activity — youngsters between the ages of 5 – 7 were found to be less active over the years as well. During the academic year of 2018/19 and 2019/20, there was a 42% increase in the number of youths being active for less than 30 minutes a day and a 12% decrease in those achieving 60 minutes or more (52% to 46%).

But not every age group is becoming less active, as a matter of fact, 13 - 16 year olds were discovered to grow more active over the years. In the term year 2017/18 39% of teens were exercising 60 minutes or more daily, by the academic year of 2019/20 there had been a 17% increase (45%). 

Ellie, also speaks about how she finds it important for her children to build a relationship with exercise but fear for their safety as things are not the same as before: 

“It's really important to me that my kids learn to enjoy exercise and see themselves as active people. Yes, the health aspect is obviously important, but mainly I want them to develop trust in their bodies — I want them to know that they are strong. And if I'm completely honest, I also want them to sleep properly at night! They enjoy team sports, mainly football, but they also walk a lot, and they cycle.

It seems a shame to me that exercise is often so structured — when I was younger, the majority of my exercise came from cycling to and from school and to wherever else I needed to be. My own kids get the majority of their exercise through formal sports clubs rather than incidental exercise as I did. This is mostly because of safety — I don't feel they can cycle around as I did as the streets are so much busier.

Oxfordshire has the most active kids in the UK, while Durham has the least

Assessing the same report from Sport England on physical activity levels in young people, we were able to highlight the regions with the most active and least active Children. We can also reveal which regions have seen the biggest decrease in activity levels.

Oxfordshire has the most active children in the UK, with almost three in five youngsters living here exercising for 60 minutes or more a day in the academic year of 2019/20. This is an 11% rise from the previous year, in which 52% of Oxonian kids were being active.

The table below shows highlights the most active regions:

Region

% Achieving 60 minutes of exercise daily

Oxfordshire

58.40%

Wiltshire & Swindon

54.70%

Northumberland

53.50%

Somerset

52.40%

Cumbria

52.20%

At the end of the scale, we can see that youth living in Durham are the most inactive. 40% of Durham youth are spending 30 minutes or less being active in the academic year 2019/20 - this is a 20% increase from the previous year, which was 34%.

Area

% Achieving 30 minutes or less daily

Durham

40.40%

Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent

37.30%

Suffolk

36.90%

Greater Manchester

36.60%

Norfolk

35.90%

Durham is not the only region that saw a decrease in the number of young people becoming less active. By analysing the change of children being active for 30 minutes or less across the school years, we can reveal that Suffolk has seen the biggest decrease, followed by Cheshire.

Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari who is a child development expert, psychologist, family therapist and founder of The Village, an online parenting community empowered by experts, comments: 

“The world is becoming more and more reliant on technology, and this means that children are growing up spending more time using screens instead of engaging in more active pastimes, such as playing outside or group sports. 

I think that kids in this generation are deprived of natural movement, which forms the basis for (sensory integration processing). This means that later on in life, there will likely be greater challenges with their behaviours, emotional regulation, and academic success. Children are sitting too much, whether it's when they're learning, or afterwards in front of computers and screens. It's not in their best interests, and it doesn't help with their mental wellbeing.”

 

Children are spending less time going outside to play and explore

The amount of time youngsters are spending outdoor is on the decline a study by the People and Nature Survey for England found that only 10% of children spent time outside with their friends of a similar age over the period of 2018/19 (which was a 23% drop from 2013/14) while just 5% took a trip outdoor by themselves. 

A vast majority of children haven't spent time in open or green spaces in and around towns and cities, the coast and the countryside in 2018/19 without an adult (83%). Over a six-year period starting from 2013/14, there has been a steep decline in the amount of time children spend time outdoors without an adult originally at 22% in 2013/14, that number has dropped to 17%, highlighting a 23% fall.

At the same time, the amount of children that spent time outdoors accompanied by adults has seen a decline initially at 78% in 2013/14 this figure has dropped by 8% to 72% in 2018/19.

On average, those who spent time outdoors during 2019 were outside at least once a week. Data found that those aged between 10 – 12 had the highest proportions of once a week visits (73%). 

The data also found that within a 12-month period, almost 1 in 5 kids under 5 years olds never spent time outdoors.

 

AGE

Frequency of visits in the last 12 months

0 to 5

6 to 9

10 to 12

13 to 15

At least once a week total

67%

72%

73%

68%

Once or twice a month

9%

10%

10%

10%

Once every 2-3 months

3%

3%

3%

4%

Once or twice

5%

4%

4%

6%

Never

18%

11%

11%

12%

Parks and playgrounds were found to be the most common places where children would venture outdoors when spending time with an adult. In 2018/19, 39% of trips taken outdoors with an adult were to a park in a town or a city — this is a 3% drop from the previous year. A further 23% of trips with an adult were at children's playgrounds and adventure playgrounds.

Rebecca Lockwood, positive psychology and coach trainer, expressed to the Lenstore the importance of encouraging kids of picking up a hobby: 

I think it is important to encourage your children to take up hobbies and reduce screen time. The mental health benefits of taking up hobbies can be huge. Not only does having a hobby keep you busy with something to do, it also gives you something to focus on and a direction. Especially when you consistently take part in a hobby, it gives you time to switch off and be more mindless than mindful, giving you time to zone out of whatever is going on in life and work. 

We hear a lot of people talking about mindfulness and meditation. Having your own hobby can be your own version of this by taking the time out just to allow yourself to do things you enjoy and can be a perfect place for your child to make friends.

Conclusion

Children now are spending their free time in other ways that do not involve being outdoors. With online gaming and social media being popular amongst children and teenagers, young people are developing new ways to interact with their peers that do not involve being outside. 

Young people do not feel encouraged to spend time outside alone or with their friends unless they are accompanied by an adult.

With the amount of time spent indoors increasing, we see a decrease in children's physical activities. More and more young people are failing to meet the recommended exercise guideline set out for them. 

Although there is no clear evidence that suggests a direct link between screen time and short-sightedness, there are studies that show children who spend more time outdoors are at a lower risk of developing myopia. While glasses or contact lenses can correct a child’s vision, research shows severe myopia puts children at a greater risk for a number of eye problems later down the road.

Roshni Patel, BSc (Hons) MCOptom, professional services manager at Lenstore comments:

“Prolonged screen time will not only have an effect on children's physical activity levels but could also have long-lasting effects on their eyesight. With phones and computers becoming a part of learning and leisure time for children — the amount of time they have logged staring at a screen has increased. Unfortunately, this extended use of digital screens without breaks can cause eye strain and soreness. There are concerns that this may increase the risk of them developing short-sightedness or cause further progression for those who already suffer with it.
 

Children should be taking regular breaks from screens and also spending time outdoors. However, when they're having screen time, the correct adjustment should be made to avoid any eye problems."

Methodology

To find the most tech-addicted kids, we analysed 5 different metrics for a variety of countries around the world. Each metric was awarded a weighted score, and those scores were combined to find the places where children are most likely glued to the screens. The lower the final score, the more addicted to phones kids were found to be. 

Metrics:

  1. 2025 Child obesity prevalence prediction
  2. Internet user (% of the population)
  3. Daily time on the internet
  4. Sedentary behaviour in children
  5. Overall children physical activity  

All sources can be found below