Digital Technology Is Ruining Childhood

Some 92% of children have a digital footprint by the age of two, and now, most adults believe digital technology and the Internet are ruining childhood, according to Havas Worldwide's "New Dynamics of Family" report.

One in three adults say technology is destroying family life, and half believe that allowing a child unrestricted access to the Internet is a form of child abuse.

The agency's Prosumer Report examines a number of themes underpinning structural shifts within the modern family, changing family relationships, parenting in the digital age, and the impact of children on consumption habits among those living in 20 countries.

“Nothing is more important than family. But that word has very different meanings for different people,” said Havas Worldwide and Havas Creative Group Global CEO Andrew Benett. “To contribute to consumers’ lives in a meaningful way, brands must first understand the realities of family relationships and the complexities of parenting in today’s digital environments. Those are the insights we’ll be sharing with our clients.”

Worries over digital technology are but one component in a more generalized concern about the changing nature of home lives. Two-thirds of adults say that today’s children aren’t given enough of a chance to just be kids, and half believe parents are sharing too much about their children on social media.

There is also a general sense that families simply don’t enjoy as much downtime together anymore: Nearly 7 in 10 parents surveyed said they wish their families ate together more often.

There is a desire to return to yesteryear, with many so-called traditional rules. Nearly half the males surveyed (46%, as compared with 37% of women) believe children would be better off if their mothers didn’t work outside the home. And 4 in 10 males believe families work best when the father is the “provider,” while only a quarter disagree.

Six in 10 respondents (65% of men and 56% of women) said that people who are single all their lives (no long-term romantic relationship, no children) are missing out on an important part of life. A majority (51%) agreed that children who are raised by their biological mother and father have an advantage over children who are not, while just 21% disagreed. (The remainder were neutral.)

Furthermore, a majority of men, compared with just more than a third of women, believe boys and girls should be raised according to their gender, with separate toys and clothing. The countries most supportive of rigid gender roles for children were Ukraine, Indonesia and China, while Taiwan, Portugal, Italy and India were most apt to support gender-neutral upbringings.

Respondents in the U.S. and the UK were the most divided, with each option being selected by around half of respondents.

This longing for old times also influences larger societal trends. Eight in 10 global respondents say they worry about the modern world’s loss of respect for elders. More people feel that the legalization of same-sex marriage is bad for society vs. those that feel it's a good thing (32% vs. 27%). 

That said, millennials overwhelmingly support most liberal issues. As such, 34% of millennials believe same-sex unions are helping society, versus 19% of baby boomers. And there's an overall positive shift on topics such as the rise in interracial marriage, international adoptions, IVF and other “artificial” means of conception and homeschooling.

The concept of family has expanded in recent years. Two in three men (62%) and nearly three-quarters of women (73%) say: “Friends can be as much ‘family’ as blood relatives.” And nearly a third consider their pets to be part of the family. 

Whether they are related by blood or through friendship, people say their family brings them more joy than anguish. Despite the general love fest, around a quarter of respondents (26%) admit there’s too much drama in their families. And 1 in 5 millennials would actually go back in time and be born into a different family if given the option.

“The New Dynamics of Family” draws on findings from an online survey of 6,767 men and women ages 18+ in 20 countries: Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The study was created by Havas Worldwide and fielded by Market Probe International in October 2014.

"Surprised little girl with computer keyboard" photo from Shutterstock.

4 comments about "Digital Technology Is Ruining Childhood".
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  1. Taylor Enriquez from Arizona State University, January 18, 2015 at 7:05 p.m.

    I feel that the beginning of your argument was very strong. I completely agree with your take on the subject of technologies role in today's youth. I have seen firsthand that a two year old is very capable of handling an iPad or cellphone. At first I found it intriguing and impressive that a person at such a young age could understand the motions to take in order to work a system such as a tablet. Then I started to become less intrigued and more worried about the time being spent on technology rather than spending time outside and developing communication skills between other children their age. I remember passing by a McDonald's near my neighborhood and looking inside to see not a jungle gym, but computer screens and digital games. This saddened be that today's kids are spending more time in front of the TV or behind a computer screen then riding their bikes or playing with the other neighbor kids in a game of basketball. I feel that it is important for a child's development to involve themselves in other activities than just technology. I feel that it develops parts of their imagination and social skills in ways that a computer screen cannot. One question I would have for you about this article based on your opinion would be, What would having a "traditional" family household do to improving the chances of a child having an equal stability of playtime outside, a child's studies, family time and technology time?

  2. Tom Goosmann from True North Inc., January 19, 2015 at 10:02 a.m.

    Great headline, which borders on clickbait since the study's content, as represented in your piece, has kids' digital consumption as a small part of a bigger global picture of attitudes towards many aspects of home life and society. Tossing in a paragraph as explosive as "One in three adults say technology is destroying family life, and half believe that allowing a child unrestricted access to the Internet is a form of child abuse" and not divulging more (such as did the question bait them with the term "child abuse" thus revealing the study's bias?) is poor journalism at best.

    Oh, but there I go, expecting journalism in the age of native advertising and editorial pages for sale.

    Could we at least have a link to the study? Or is that for sale too?

  3. David Kleeman from Dubit, January 20, 2015 at 2:53 p.m.

    Sounds like an interesting study, but as noted by Tom above, the headline seems poorly chosen on many fronts -

    * digital media is only a small part of the study;
    * it sounds like they got the answer they set out to get by asking leading questions;
    * they asked if it was harming family life (which parents themselves could fix) as opposed to “ruining childhood”; and
    * in an opinion study it makes no sense to headline a story that digital media is ruining childhood; at best you can say that parents feel that it’s having a negative effect.

  4. Max Flavors from Urban Academics, December 5, 2016 at 11:16 a.m.

    Interesting article, however, I find many in my queries about tech use in early learning go positive to negative based upon socio-economic status. The haves tend to complain when they give their 18 month old an iPad and not able to get it back without a fight. Even though they are astonished on how quickly the infant can navigate the controls and gain access to their favorite content. The have-nots think it’s great. Marveling at the positive responses they experience when their infant play their favorite alphabet game on the fathers cell phone while washing clothes at the local Laundromat. The article certainly went across the gambit only to leave out global warming and fracking. Suffice to say it has some merit to the condition and changing of our society, and the role the media plays in shaping its opinions good, bad or indifferent. 

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