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As National Day of Unplugging approaches, Priory poll reveals ‘daily’ family conflict between parents and children fixated by digital devices

  • Priory poll finds one in four families in the UK has arguments every day about the time a child spends on their smartphone, laptop or iPad
  • Fathers are more likely than mothers to argue with their children
  • Parents estimate their child spends four hours a day on a laptop, tablet or smartphone
  • Almost half of parents believe their child worries about his or her appearance as a result of going online
  • Nearly all parents (92%) think social media is having a negative impact on the mental health of young people

Parents across the UK are having daily battles with their children over the time they spend on laptops, iPhones and iPads, and their fixation with social media accounts, according to a new poll by the Priory Group, the mental healthcare specialists.

The poll coincides with the run-up to the National Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour respite from technology from Friday evening to Saturday evening (March 1-2) aimed at getting people to disconnect from their devices so they can communicate face-to-face with their loved ones and communities.[1]

More than half (57%) of the 1,002 parents of 10 to 18-year-olds polled by the Priory Group say they argue weekly with children about the time spent on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

But a quarter (24%) say they argue with their child every day.

Fathers (66%) say they are more likely to argue with their child daily, or at least once or twice a week, than mothers (46%).

Some of the arguments are fuelled by parental concern over mental health, with 92% of parents saying that social media and the internet are having a negative impact on the mental health of young people.

They cite cyber-bullying as their biggest concern (50%), followed by self-esteem issues (41%), anxiety over getting enough ‘likes’ and followers (40%), loss of face-to-face interaction (47%), loss of sleep (43%) and the fuelling of early sexualisation (39%).

The National Day of Unplugging, which takes place on 1-2 March, encourages all age groups to switch off from computers and devices.

In a recent report, Ofcom said that even amongst 5 to 7-year-olds, 82% use the internet and 70% watch YouTube. 12 to 15-year-olds spent an average of almost three hours a day online, with many preferring to browse the internet, watch YouTube videos and spend time on social media than meet their friends.    

Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory’s Oxford Wellbeing Centre, says families should always create digital plans between them which state where and when a device is used. She says: “The family internet plan can include locations devices can be used - for example, not at the dining table or in the bedroom.

“Perhaps devices should only be used in social areas of the house where they are also visible to parents.”

She said families must ensure they have “time to communicate with one another in traditional ways and have conversations without distraction”.

Dr van Zwanenberg adds, “Important emotional skills are at risk of being lost as children lose the ability to socialise in person, and begin to think that they can exercise control at the tap of a key, and receive instant gratification in all things.

“They lose the ability to read emotions and to empathise.

“It’s that lack of empathy that can result in cyberbullying. They also lack restorative sleep. My 12-year-old told me that four of his friends are communicating via an online game at midnight on school nights because their parents do not remove their iPads from their rooms and ‘just trust them’. Teenagers need, on average, nine hours sleep a night but many are getting considerably less because of internet use.

“Many young people tell me that they wake themselves up at night to ensure they are not ‘missing out’ on messages.”

Any time limits depend on the young people involved but rules should be absolutely explicit, with consequences agreed for not following them,” she said. “It is important to be consistent with the rules though, and for parents to ‘role model’ appropriately by following those rules that apply to them.  Although young people push boundaries and at times get really angry about rules ‘being so unfair’, deep down boundaries do make them feel safe. As a parent, you are absolutely doing the right thing having clear, so feel confident in enforcing them despite the short-term fall out it might cause. Your children will thank you for it - eventually.”

Dr van Zwanenberg added: “As part of the family’s plan, parents should make it clear there should be no communication with children and people their children don’t know in ‘real life’ without permission of a parent. They should never be posting personal details of where they live, go to school or their family life that can be seen by anyone outside their closest friendship group.”


[1] National Day of Unplugging,



Notes to editors

For interviews or inquiries, please contact Philip Nicholls on 0207 605 4332 or email

A photo of Dr Haylev van Zwanenberg is attached to the email.

The online poll was conducted by Atomik Research among 1,002 parents of 10 to 18-year-olds. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.

About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into three divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, and adult care. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.

About National Day of Unplugging

National Day of Unplugging is a nationwide initiative for a ‘technology Sabbath’ encourages families to reconnect with each other by disconnecting their computers, iPads and phones for 24 hours. It is a US-inspired project which was started in 2010 by Reboot, a Jewish cultural group, and encourages people to take a “technology Sabbath”. The initiative is part of a larger movement of shutting down and switching off, which has seen restaurants ban mobile phones and national parks in the US offer technology creches, so people can lock up their gadgets and enjoy the surroundings out from behind a screen.

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