Children spend nearly a year slumped in front of the TV or staring at computer screens by the time they are seven, a former children’s minister has warned.
Tim Loughton said this screen addiction in youngsters could cause changes in the brain similar to those seen in cocaine addicts and alcoholics.
In a report titled ‘The state our children are in’ for the charity 4Children, the Tory MP cited research by a psychologist suggesting today’s children were at risk of a lifelong dependency on TV and computer screens.
The research by Dr Aric Sigman warned that a generation of kids could suffer damage to the body as well as the brain as a result.
In the essay, Mr Loughton called for a crackdown on the ‘health and safety’ mentality that stopped children taking part in rough and tumble activities.
He cited NHS statistics that showed half as many children are being admitted to hospital after falling out of a tree than they were ten years ago.
In contrast, kids are twice as likely to go to casualty for injuries caused by repetitive strain movements, such as playing computer games for too long, than a decade ago.
He said: ‘Should the state be intervening to rebalance the average child’s day, when they’re spending – on average – ten times as long on the computer or watching TV as playing outside?
The research by Dr Sigman showed 12 to 15-year olds spend on average more than six hours a day staring at screens.
At the time, he called for a ban for toddlers and severely rationed for other youngsters and will warn that parents who use technology as a ‘babysitter’ could be setting up their children for a lifetime of ill health.
His work and studies by other researchers link time spent in front of screens with health problems including obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure, inattentiveness and declines in maths and reading, as well as sleep disorders and autism.
In the report, Mr Loughton called for the relationship between the state and families to be rebalanced.
Noting that there had been 100 Acts of Parliament in the last 25 years affecting children, he questioned whether these had ‘strengthened families’.
He said: ‘The approach I have always favoured [is] where the State is there to serve, to enable, to promote the family, not to stifle it, nor to direct or supplant, other than in those severe cases where neglect or cruelty harms the children
The MP for East Worthing and Shoreham also said that a toxic concoction of 24 hour social media, the sexualisation of childhood and pressures to ‘fit in’ and achieve were fuelling a ‘quarter life crisis’ among today’s young people.