Children are spending an average of 23 hours a week on smartphones and other gadgets – twice as much time as they spend conversing with their parents, polling suggests.
The survey of 2,000 families with children below the age of 14 found that on average they were spending 3 hours 18 minutes a day on personal devices.
By contrast, they were found to be spending 1 hour 43 minutes a day engaged in conversation with members of their family.
The polling follows new advice from the chief medical officer, which urges parents to take more control over their children’s digital habits, and ban smartphones from family meals, and from bedrooms at night.
The survey found four in five parents said they had tried to persuade their children to spend less time on their personal devices. And two in five admitted to giving children devices in order to keep them occupied.
Overall, children were found to be spending an average of 23 hours a week isolated on their mobiles, tablets and games consoles at home, almost double the 12 hours they spend conversing with their parents.
The polling, carried out by CensusWide for music streaming company ROXI, found 54 per cent of parents worry that their children are missing out by spending too much time isolated on their devices.
Those living in London spent most time on their devices – an average of 4 hours 42 minutes a day, while those in the South East and Wales spent an average of 2 hours 36 minutes on such gadgets.
And two thirds of parents said they wished they had more family time.
The new guidance on screen time and social media follows a review of the evidence about the impact of screen-time on children’s mental health and wellbeing.
It found that heavy use of social media was associated with a doubling in depressive symptoms
The review said there was not enough published research to support any specific daily limit for screen time.
But the advice from the UK’s four chief medical officers suggests parents should take a “precautionary approach” and not allow children to spend more than two hours at a time on smartphones and other gadgets.
And social media providers will be told to introduce a raft of measures to tackle addictive and harmful behaviours, and prevent under-age use of sites, or face tougher laws.
The Daily Telegraph has been campaigning for a statutory duty of care to protect children from online harms, which is now under consideration.
Prof Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, said parents should talk to their children about the content of what they are watching, and look out for changes in behaviour.
She also recommends that parents try using tracking features which measure how much time they and – with permission – their children spend looking at screens, or on social media,
And families are urged to have “screen-free mealtimes” with “adults giving their full attention to children” away from televisions, tablets and smartphones.
The guidance, published by the chief medical officers, also says parents should never assume a child is happy to have their photo published online and should talk to them about the fact that photographs can be manipulated.
The review found 38.1 per cent of teenage girls spending more than five hours a day on social media suffered from depressive symptoms, compared with rates of 18.1 per cent among those spending between one to three hours on such sites. Levels of depression among teenage boys rose from 6.8 per cent to 14.5 per cent, in the group spending longer on such sites.
The review could not prove a causal link.
But Dame Sally urged parents to take steps to control their children’s use of social media, while further research is carried out.
As well as the guidance for parents, she has asked the technology industry to introduce changes to establish a “duty of care” to young users, or face legislation.
These include changes in the way sites are structured to “remove addictive capabilities” which encourage users to get hooked.
This could mean getting rid of functions like “auto-play” which mean content is continuously delivered, or pushed with nudges that “you might like” particular videos or games, and praise for logging in regularly.
Other measures include effective age verification methods, age-appropriate advertisements, and the removal of harmful content such as bullying or images of self-harming.
And the technology industry will be asked to contribute to funding on research on the impact of screen time, and to share anonymised data to improve the scientific evidence base about the potential risks and benefits of social media.