Jenette Hardy, who runs Hardy Soft Play Hire in Sedbergh with her husband Daniel, explores how we can encourage children to switch off from technology and break the tablet habit

ALL parents will recognise the challenge of encouraging their children to put down their iPad, phone or games console.

Spending hours on technology is an easy habit to get into, but a difficult one to break, especially as research published by Ofcom earlier this year revealed that social media and online gaming are increasing in popularity.

In my line of work at Hardy Soft Play Hire, I deal with families and parents on a day-to-day basis. In recent years, I’ve certainly noticed an increase in parents saying that it’s more and more difficult to find ways to keep the kids quiet without using technology, when they just need some time to prepare dinner or tidy up.

There are certainly some benefits to children using tablets. These days, as they grow up, they need to know how to operate computers and touch screen technology. It can also help with their reading.

However, a negative aspect is that games and activities on tablets can be very addictive.

They become engrossed in a screen that is 10cm from their face and won't interact with anyone in the ‘real' world.

Of course, the web can be a sinister place (like the recent Momo scare) - you don't know who else is online and what they are doing or saying.

There's no doubt that children are spending more time online than ever before. Key findings of the recent Ofcom report included that 52 per cent of three to four-year-olds go online for nearly nine hours a week (69 per cent of which use a tablet). In the five to seven-year-old age range, 63 per cent play games for more than seven hours a week, while 70 per cent of them use Youtube, and 82 per cent go online for more than nine hours a week.

Unfortunately, if these numbers continue to increase, I believe social skills will suffer. Children won't learn to interact with each other and their parents, good relationships in the family won't be built and neither will happy memories of doing things together.

Children also won't develop certain skills, such as gross motor skills that they learn by climbing trees and building dens.

I’m a parent of two - aged four and six - so I understand the challenge faced by parents.

My children are unaware that I exist when they’re on their tablets. It’s hard to encourage them to put the tablets down, but I find that distracting them helps.

For example, if they come home from school and want to go straight on their tablets, then having another activity ready can sometimes take their mind off it.

Alternative activities that have worked well for me include creative crafts, baking, puzzles, nature walks and getting them involved with tasks such as gardening, as it teaches them responsibility if they have to water plants every day after school.

I also think that my two have developed their computer skills through the tablets, so I’m happy for them to use them, as long as I can control what they are accessing.

There are a number of good tools that parents can use to moderate online activity. For example, YouTube for Kids and the CBBC app are great for providing programmes that are suitable for children, without any adult content.

I do believe social media is a totally different story. I don't think there is any need for young children to be on social media.

Playing games to develop their numeracy and literacy skills is one thing, but interacting with the whole world is another.