23 April 2017
Posted by Heidi Salmons

A survey by HMC and Digital Awareness UK of over 5,000 pupils and parents aims to better understand attitudes and behaviours relating to mobile device use and further improve support given to young people in and out of school.

The survey into the impact on families of the use of digital devices was conducted ahead of the HMC cross-sector Spring ConferencePutting Ourselves in Parents’ Shoes: New Ways of Working Between Schools and Families”, British Library, London, 26th April.

The two organisations are working on schools resources and parental support to help children to use digital devices responsibly. Those resources include a video about digital addiction:


  • Children’s biggest worry about being online is lack of sleep.
  • Parents’ biggest concern about their children being online is the impact on their social skills
  • Over a third (36%) of children have asked their parents to stop checking their mobile devices
  • Only 2% of parents said their biggest concern about their children’s internet use was sexting despite data the extent of the problem amongst teenagers. This was also true of the young people polled.
  • There was also very low concern over cyberbullying and grooming
  • Experts say they are shocked by the findings (see below)

The survey - conducted via a mixed state and independent academy chain – reveals:

  • Children’s biggest concern about being on-line is lack of sleep (47%) but only 19% of parents chose that as their biggest concern about their children.
  • Parents’ biggest concern about their children being online is the impact on their social skills (32%) but only 10% of young people chose this about themselves. Addiction was the next biggest worry (26%) amongst parents with lack of sleep third
  • Over a third of children thought parents’ biggest concern about their children’s device use would be lack of sleep (34%)
  • 72% of students said they spent anything between 3 and 10 hours online on an average day during weekends and holidays. 11% said they were online during weekends and holidays between 10 and 15 hours a day. However, nearly half of students said they “wouldn’t mind” if all their devices were taken away for a weekend. Another 20% said they would feel ‘isolated’ and 11% would feel ‘panicky’.
  • Over a third (36%) of children people say they have asked their parents to stop checking their mobile devices. Almost half of them (46%) say it makes no difference when they do so. However, under 10% of parents thought their time spent on devices was concerning their children.
  • 22% of students felt that the use of mobile devices stopped their families from enjoying each other’s company and 82% of children say meal times should be device-free
  • 95% of parents reported that they do not use mobile devices at meal-times (but 14% of children said their parents were on-line at meal-times and 42.44% of them felt ignored or annoyed by it)
  • 43% of parents thought they spent too much of their own time online. 21% of parents report being online for 6-10 hours during an average working day and 37% say they are online between 3 and 5 hours a day at weekends. 5% are online between ten and 15 hours at weekends
  • 72% of students said they spent anything between 3 and 10 hours on-line on an average day during weekends and holidays. 11% are online between 10 and 15 hours a day and 3% say they are online 16-20 hours a day during those periods.
  • However, the majority of children don’t think their parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend on mobile devices. 56% answered no to that question.

Asked about why they put sleep top of their worry list, one student respondent commented: “This is mainly because, especially in teenagers, we need a lot of sleep and, without it, it can severely limit our learning, impacting our jobs, social life, etc and makes us much less nice people to be around. As well as that, it can cause mental health problems, a major problem with people around my age right now.”

One parent respondent commented: “Because digital technology dominates my work life I really make a conscious effort to disconnect from it during my family and leisure time. I loathe social media and never engage in this! I prefer to meet face-to-face. The iPad makes it very easy to dip into work and this needs to be resisted if possible; however, I am not always successful.”

Mike Buchanan, Chair of HMC and Head of Ashford School, said:

“Mobile devices have become an integral part of life at school, work and play and parents, teachers and pupils need to work together to rewrite the rule book.

“Teachers know we can’t just wave goodbye to children at the end of the day and pick them up the following morning if we want to help ensure their wellbeing as well as their academic success. At the same time, schools are getting more requests for help from parents puzzling how to cope best with their children’s fast-changing lives.

“Our poll shows that children are aware of many of the risks associated with over use of technology but they need the adults in their lives to set clear boundaries and role model sensible behaviour. To achieve this, we need to join up the dots between school and home and give consistent advice.

“Many schools are already doing great work to open their doors to parents, with initiatives as diverse as Teenage Journey events, parenting workshops, free ranging question and answer sessions with the head, and expert talks. We are also working on new resources for our schools which we will share with state school colleagues.”

Emma Robertson, co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, said:

“These results are shocking. We are surprised that the biggest concern when it comes to online safety for parents is the impact technology has on their children’s social skills, especially as this is an area that few schools are providing education around. Interestingly children believe their parents' biggest concern would be linked to sleep deprivation, an issue that has recently been spotlighted.

“This might be partly explained by the fact that the thousands of children we talk to in schools tell us that their parents often don’t know how much time they're spending on their devices overnight, or what they are actually doing online. This is a new and hidden world which adults can find hard to penetrate.

“We hope these findings will be a wake-up call for families and motivate them to have serious conversations about the safe and healthy use of technology. We are encouraged by the attention some schools are now giving to this serious issue and the attempts to bring teachers, pupils and parents together to find consistent solutions.”

Notes for Editors

5,000 parents and students took part in the survey. (3,000 parents and 2,000 students)

For further details, please contact:

Sue Bishop, HMC External Relations Director, 07787 294808 [email protected]

Sheila Thompson 07958 307637 [email protected]

For further details of the HMC conference, please see: