How Much Screen Time? Nine-Year-Olds Share Their Digital Diaries

This is what 24 hours of technology look like for a nine-year-old

They are surrounded by technology, and have been for much of their young lives: from tablets to smartphones, games consoles to smart watches. For children, technology is just another aspect of modern living but for parents, it can be difficult to negotiate how much screen time is healthy and normal. So to help build a picture of how much time children spend looking at screens, HuffPost UK asked four families to keep a diary of their nine-year-old’s technology usage for a 24 hour period. Here’s what they told us.

Florence Kirby, nine, lives in south London with her two older brothers (aged 17 and 12) and her parents. Mum Annie explains that no technology is allowed in Flo’s room, and she does not have a television, games console or smartphone. But she does run her own YouTube channel.

Annie recorded the behaviour of her daughter on a Sunday spent at home, she says: “Sunday morning is the best time for Flo to get ahead with technology. I’ve noticed, over the past few months how she gets up earlier than a school day on weekends, just to get her time in on the iMac.

“This Sunday just gone, however, she went downstairs and she continued her ‘career’ on FIFA 18. She claims the Xbox is training for her real life ambition of becoming a professional footballer.”

0930 - As I came downstairs, she was still playing FIFA but she stopped quite willingly for breakfast. Soon after I’d turned the kettle on, I heard her invite her dad to play with her. I sometimes suspect she picks a game he’d like because she’s starting to sense her time playing is nearly up.

1030 - She walked away from FIFA without being asked and picked up her pad and pens and started drawing. She and I chatted while she drew.

1130 - Announced that she was off to look at stuff on YouTube. After 10 mins (of wondering exactly what on YouTube she was watching) I discovered her back in the office. She was filming herself with her iPod touch watching her own YouTube channel on the iMac.

1300 - I called her down for lunch and she came down without resistance. All technology is completely banned at the dining table and this is where we talk and laugh as a family. The Saturday night film is the other exception where technology is banned and we all respect and enjoy it.

1400 - Flo found her iPod (which she’d recharged to 100% again) and went into in her bedroom with the door closed and music blaring.

1530 - She was back to drawing – colouring in the most imaginative pictures. We chatted as I got the lunch boxes ready for the next day.

1600 - We watched a family film and Flo prefers a cuddle to an iPod so she didn’t return to the Xbox until after the film, then bath and dinner.

1900 - She and her brothers played a competitive and hilarious round of ‘Overcooked’ [a game where two or more players run a kitchen] on the console. The laughter that came from the room was wonderful. How often would that happen? In all honesty, I always want to join in. I Iove hearing them laugh together.

2000 - Everything was turned off and it was Harry Potter books at bedtime.

Annie says: “Looking at this typical weekend day, I wonder how other parents would judge me when it comes to technology. Flo never tantrums or shouts or argues when I ask her to stop what she’s doing.

“We also respect that if stopping in the middle of a level affects the overall score, then see it through to the end of the level where possible. I would like that treatment if I were in the middle of something whatever it may be. It’s a bit of common sense and common courtesy both ways.”

“Forbidden fruit can cause battles not worth having so our general parenting approach is to choose which battles we enter. Those we enter, we win. Every time. With technology, we haven’t made it all that appealing or curious.”

Joe Luca Iannarilli, 9 from Wolverhampton took part in the 24-hour challenge on a school day. Mum Emma recorded his usage between coming home in the evening and going back to school the next morning. Joe primarily uses his tablet and smartwatch, and doesn’t have a personal mobile phone.

1615 - Joe had been playing outside after school but came in and shot upstairs to play on the PlayStation 4. I could hear him singing football chants so guessed he was playing FIFA...again.

1700 - Came downstairs, apparently starving. He put Scooby Doo on, so it looked like we might be device free, at least for a short while. He grabbed the tablet for all of a minute and watched YouTube. Unimpressed and back to the television.

1830 - During bathtime, Joe had the laptop balanced on the toilet seat (as usual) so he could watch Tekkerz Kid [a YouTube channel].

1852 - Shouted to me to bring my laptop for him as his battery had died. He was still avoiding actually washing, and was now watching WBA best goals. I wonder if anyone else has a child who treats bathtime like a movie session?

1945 - He had football on the television and grabbed his Nintendo Switch to play FIFA. So that was football on the telly, football on his game system, and a football on the floor too. Seeing a pattern here.

2020 - Finished for bedtime. Happy to go to bed.

0800 - Joe played on the PlayStation before heading down for breakfast in the morning. He decided he didn’t want any food. Already getting those teenager moments and he’s only nine.

0840 - On the way to school he checked that his smartwatch had some battery life, as he says he plays with it at break time with his friends Oli and Riley, who also have smartwatches.

1545 - Picked him up from school – he moaned that they have been told to keep their watches in lockers during lessons because someone cheated during maths. This annoyed him immensely, he says he only uses it to check his answers, not find them. Gave him the benefit of the doubt. He has an innocent face.

Emma says: “This is pretty much normal usage for Joe, he tends to pick it up when he can’t go outside due to bad weather, or dark nights, and usage is much less in spring and summer.

“As a parent I don’t really have a problem with the amount of usage as it is balanced by lots of outdoor play. Joe doesn’t have much homework - basically reading and spelling, and as we do this, I can’t really see a problem.

“Technology is part of our every day lives and needs to be embraced. It’s not going anywhere soon. I think balance is the key.”

Catherine ‘Cate’ Gillespie, 9, lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire and took part in the challenge on a weekend, after she’d had a friend for a sleepover.

Mum, Debbie, says that Cate mainly uses a tablet, which she bought herself, and does not have a mobile phone, although that will change in September when she starts getting the bus herself to school. It has, however, already been established that this will only be used for phone calls and text messaging, not social media.

Cate currently has no social presence or access to features like WhatsApp and according to Debbie “shows very little interest” despite friends with this technology.

0730 - Cate picked up her tablet for the first time in seven days. I know this because it had not been charged at all. She was using her tablet to find cute animal illustrations and then copy them. Set up in the living room with easels and blankets, she was watching Disney’s ‘Maleficent’.

1030 - She used the tablet for around three hours, until we all had breakfast together and she put it away.

1800 - Cate did not go back to her tablet all day until she wanted to watch the ‘Big Bang Theory’ later on. We played a few games and then looked at stuff on Smiggle [an Australian stationary brand].

1915 - Cate whinged when she was told to turn it off, but this was more of a reaction to having to have a bath and go to bed than losing the device.

Debbie says: “This is probably quite normal weekend usage as Cate is not a big gamer. If she needs to do homework during the week, she tends to use my computer for research.”

Liam James Forde, 9, from Shropshire, took part in the challenge mid-week and was recorded by his mum Lisa. Liam has an Xbox, which was only purchased in 2017 for Christmas after ongoing pleading and requests, Lisa says. But her son doesn’t have a tablet or a smartphone like many of his friends.

1629 - Liam was on the Xbox after school. He played for around 45 minutes. When I asked him what he was doing (or what he said he was doing) he said playing Lego Star Wars.

1730 - He finished playing the game when dinner was served, which didn’t go down very well.

1830 - He tried to convince me he should have more time on the Xbox after dinner as he’d been working very hard at school! But that was it for the next 24 hours.

Lisa says that this usage is normal for Liam, and he uses the Xbox around a similar time for four or five days of the week.

“Most of Liam’s friends are playing one on a regular basis,” says Lisa, but she has noticed a change in Liam’s behaviour since he got the games console, so is anxious about introducing more technology, “Liam wants to play on his device more and more and his behaviour has become more grumpy.”