Parents fear tech devices are impacting family time and children’s physical health, sleep, and concentration

A boy uses his phone on the floor while his mum uses her laptop on the sofa.

Internet Matters’ annual Children’s Digital Wellbeing survey shows the increasing use of tech devices is coinciding with growing concerns about screen time eating into traditionally family-orientated time.


  • Data shows 63% of parents believe time online negatively impacts their children’s health. Over half of parents are concerned screen time is affecting the child’s sleep.
  • An increasing number of children say strangers tried to contact or message them. Almost half of 15-16-year-old girls say this has happened to them, up from 3 in 10 in 2022.
  • Two thirds of children (67%) continue to report experiences online that are harmful.
  • Overall, children’s digital wellbeing is improving. Children say they are experiencing more of the benefits from their online activities, including feeling more confident, more creative and more empowered.

Children's Wellbeing in a Digital World 2024

Britain’s leading not-for-profit supporting children and families to keep safe online, is today publishing its third annual “Children’s Wellbeing in a Digital World” index.

The survey of 1,000 families reveals increasing parental worries that time spent on devices is taking over family life and is damaging children’s physical health, sleep, and concentration. However, the research also shows that overall children’s digital wellbeing has improved over the last year.

The report is the third annual Internet Matters Index tracking the impact of digital technology on children’s physical, social, emotional, and developmental wellbeing. It highlights both the positive impact of the internet and tech devices on children and families as well as areas of concern.

The survey reveals how digital consumption is rising, with the average time children spend online on some activities increasing. Parents are also increasingly noticing how technology is diverting attention from family time towards devices. On a 0-10 scale, 31% selected scores of between 8 and 10 on the statement ‘we often find ourselves spending time on our own devices rather than doing things together’, rising from 20% in 2022. The jump, in percentage point terms, represents one of the most notable shifts over the last year.

This trend raises important questions about the balance of screen time, particularly within the family setting and to what extent some parents are setting a positive example to their children when it comes to screen time.

The survey also suggests parents are increasingly noticing the physical impact on their children of them spending time online. Well over half of parents (63%) say they believe time online negatively impacts their children’s health, up from 58% in the 2022 survey. Concerns about screen time affecting sleep have risen to 57%. Almost a quarter of children also say they are experiencing negative physical effects from their online activities, ranging from fatigue and concentration difficulties to vision problems and poor posture.

Although children themselves say they are feeling safer online – 81% say they feel safe online most of the time – the survey highlights how many parents are becoming increasingly anxious about their children being online, particularly around strangers contacting their children and exposure to sexual content and nudity.

Two-thirds of children (67%) continue to report experiences online that are harmful. Girls are significantly more likely to experience many of the harms of being online. Nearly half of 15-to-16-year-old girls say that strangers have tried to message or contact them, up from 3 in 10 in 2022, while 13–14-year-old girls are more likely to say that being online makes them feel lonely and isolated. This builds on findings from Internet Matters research published in 2023, which showed how sexist influencers and communities are creating a hostile environment for girls and women online.

The report’s data also shows:

An increasing number of parents are taking steps to monitor and mediate their children’s online activity, including apps and settings to limit and measure screen time, monitoring of children's social media posts, and vetting apps, websites, or games for suitability. 21% of parents manage their children's usage 'a lot'.

Spending time online is increasingly leaving children feeling confident and independent. 75% of children now view technology and the internet as important to their independence, up from 69%. They also see the internet as a significant resource for job inspiration, being creative, learning beyond the classroom, and discovering new hobbies.

More parents are engaging in dialogue with their children about what they’re doing online. More children now talk to their parents after encountering online bullying, misinformation, or unfamiliar contacts, reflecting an increase in trust and openness in the parent-child relationships regarding tech.

A large majority of children continue to agree that digital technology is key for keeping in touch with friends (82%). It's also clear that digital devices and online platforms aren't just about games and videos; they're often about community, friendship, and support. This year, 60% of children say that being online makes them feel like they're part of a group.

There has been a rise in the positive developmental, emotional, and social experiences of children online from 2022 to 2023. Two-thirds (65%) of children say spending time online makes them feel at least mostly happy.

Children feel less affected by online harms than they did last year. 24% saw racist, homophobic, or sexist content as really upsetting or scary, a fall from 35% in 2022, while just 9% saw content that promotes unrealistic body types as upsetting, down from 22%. However this could be because experiencing harm online might be becoming normalised in the eyes of children, something they see as inevitable and part and parcel of their online lives.

Carolyn Bunting, co-CEO of Internet Matters, responding to the findings, said:

“The impact of technology on children and family life is complex, bringing both benefits and concerns.

“Many parents are increasingly worried that tech devices are eating into family time and about screen time strains on their children’s physical health, sleep, and concentration. The glowing blue light under the bedroom door is something many parents know all too well, and some children say they are unable to control how long they spend online.

“Parents need to ask how families can get the balance right between the time spent online and time spent offline, and whether they  are always setting the best example for their children when it comes to using phones and other tech devices.

“We should though welcome the overall trend showing children’s digital wellbeing has improved. At its best, the online world is a brilliant source of inspiration, creativity, and fun for children. It is also encouraging to see that there has been an increase in the proportion of parents taking steps to support children online.

“The recent passing of the Online Safety Act will be crucially important to increasing protection for children and young people. However, over two thirds of young people have told us that they experienced harm online, particularly girls. We should be alarmed that almost half of 15-to-16-year-old girls say they have been messaged or contacted by strangers. The impact of sexist and misogynistic influencers and communities continues to create a hostile online environment for many girls and young women.

“These challenges reinforce that there is no room for complacency, and that it cannot just be left to parents. There is still much work to be done to keep all our children safe online.”

Recent posts