A SURVEY published by a national children’s charity found a fifth of Welsh parents fear their children are becoming addicted to their screens, CHRIS BINDING reports.

A 2015 Action for Children survey with 2,037 UK parents aged 18 plus, discovered families struggle to get children “unplugged” from activities away from television, phone and computer screens.

When asked which behaviour they found most difficult to control in their children, more Welsh parents said they struggled to limit technology-based activity over sending them to bed or doing their homework.

Brigitte Gater, director of children’s services at Action for Children in Wales, says technology is “necessary" but maintaining a balance is important for building “strong relationships” with parents.

She said: “We know from our extensive work with families that strong parental relationships build resilience in children, making them less susceptible to bullying or abuse outside the home and encouraging them to speak to their parents about any fears or concerns.

“As well as the conscious effort to cut down on screen-time, some parents benefit from additional support, such as dropping in for a chat or attending support groups at childrens’ centres to learn how to better connect with their children.”

The survey was published in conjunction with a National Children’s Hour Campaign, which encourages parents and children to “unplug and play” with old-fashioned activities, including sport and board games.

With children becoming tech-literate at younger ages, striking a "balance" can be a difficult task.

A report published by Ofcom in 2015 discovered the estimated amount of time five to 15-year-olds spend online has increased since 2014 – from 12.5 hours to 13.7 hours – with children aged between 12 and 15 spending nearly three and a half hours a week more online than they do watching TV.

It also claims seven in ten 12 to 15s own a smartphone and three quarters of them have a social media profile.

Ms Gater, of Action for Children, added: “We don’t have any evidence of the long-term effects of technology on children as we are at the beginning of a journey.

“But what we do know from experience is that IT can create an isolation for kids, as they access information alone and they may see it as a replacement for friendships and social interaction.”

With the publication of Donaldson Report (February 2015) proposing curriculum reform in Wales, Gwent teachers believe the teaching of IT is important to “foster good habits.”

Head teacher Jon Murphy, of Llanfoist Fawr Primary said: “With the publication of the Donaldson Report we are at a critical juncture in education with regards to creating a IT curriculum.

“Technology is about balance and is extremely important – but if we focus too much on digital technology we are in danger of losing the building blocks that allow us to apply it correctly.

“That is why we have an emphasis on traditional skills such as handwriting.”

Joanne Cueto, head teacher at Waunfawr Primary, Crosskeys, agrees children need “a wide range of stimulation” to develop.

She said: “We have seen first-hand the benefits of embracing technology as a tool to enhance learning.

“Children need to play imaginatively and be creative and of course technology can be a part of that.

“But it’s also essential there is an effective balance of activities at home and in school to ensure that our children today are happy, healthy, well rounded young people.”

Suzanne Hamer, of Archbishop Rowan Williams CIW VA Primary School, believes technology can be a “great motivator” and ties in with her school’s goal to prepare students for adult life, providing them will skills for a “happy successful future”.

She said: “Whether we like it or not technology is the future for our children.

“However, it is just another resource and it is important that there is a balance between developing these skills and others.

“As adults, staff and parents, we must set an example to children and if all they see is people on trains, buses, restaurants on mobile technology they know no different.”

For younger children, the issue of technology in learning is equally divisive.

Jade Trevis, 28, manager of Kite’s Nursery, Newport, said: “We have a desktop computer in the pre-school room and some of the children come over and swipe it with their finger due to their experience with tablets.”

Norfolk House nursery manager Yatin Mianger, believes it is important that children are “exposed to IT at an early age” as it is a “key employment skill.”

Amy Baugh, nursery manager of Chuckles Nursery, Pentwyn House, added: “I think that technology has its place and has a positive impact on children but parents would agree that time away from the screen is a good thing.”

For Andrew Poole,46, of Cromwell Youth football team, technology is a “massive problem” and sport should be used as a “weapon” to combat inactivity.

He said: “I have coached a few kids who have no social interaction skills and are so quiet and taking part in team sport can help them gain experiences and skills.

“Sometimes the parents are to blame for letting their children get away with it and the result is that children become lethargic and never leave the Aladdin’s Cave of their own bedrooms.

“I think outdoor activities are important as children get a different type of education, learn life skills and also are at less risk from obesity.”

Barbara Bigby-North, of the Usk Valley Trampoline Club, agreed.

“Kids don’t do enough active stuff these days and are happier sitting at their computers,” she said.

Action for Children has released “top tips” for getting children to “unplug” from technology.

These include identifying the challenges children enjoy and replicating them, creating weekly schedules of activities and “practicing what you preach” by sharing screen-free time with children.

Brigitte Gater, of Action for Children, said: “Parenting has to be very deliberate and although restating boundaries can be very exhausting, this is something that is worthwhile.

“Group activities such as board games, swimming and playing are still very important and as parents we don’t want to let them completely erode.

“Action for Children and many other organisations provide services and advice and parents should consider these options rather than trying to Google the answer.”

For more information on the campaign and “unplug and play” activities visit actionforchildren.org.uk/nch