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Addicted to technology

    Every morning, dreadfully early, I hear footsteps on the stairs and then feel a tug on my arm. "Can I watch videos on your phone?" That's always my four-year-old daughter's first question as she stands by our bed. The second follows a similar theme. "Can I watch TV BEFORE breakfast? Not after breakfast, BUT BEFORE?"

    Often I refuse. Sometimes I agree, mainly to shut her up so I can get a coffee. But I can understand her obsession with my phone because I, too, am obsessed.

    On a trip to France this summer, the week following the Brexit vote, my iPhone became my crack cocaine. "Boris has PULLED OUT!" I shouted to my wife, as we walked through a tranquil medieval village. On a day trip to a beautiful island, I stood with my head in my Twitter feed, ranting about Andrea Leadsom. When I wasn't reading the news, I had WhatsApp arguments about it. Then I took pictures of the view and posted them online, pretending I was having a great time, while actually feeling miserable and wound-up.

    Clarissa Farr, headmistress of St Paul's girls' school, sees this kind of obsessive behaviour a great deal among parents, and she thinks it is making her pupils depressed. Last month, she said she thought more and more girls were "hiding on the internet" and failing to form real human relationships. She added that parents needed to start leading by example and get off their devices.

    Recent alarming surveys suggest our children, particularly our daughters, are becoming more miserable. A government study into the well-being of 30,000 teens said that the proportion of girls reporting feeling depressed or anxious had risen by 10 per cent in the past decade. Interestingly, those from more affluent families had reported the worst symptoms.

    I'm the cause of my daughter's iPhone problem

    It isn't a simple thing to explain such a trend, and I am no sociologist. Some experts blame an education system increasingly dominated by assessments. However, most point the finger at the rapid rise of social media and smartphones. The enormous volume of information and opinion coming at us through our devices is arguably the single biggest social change seen by developed societies over the past decade. Tanya Harris, head of services at the Jewish mental health charity Jami, told me some children even set their alarms through the night just so they can check their time-lines and see how many "likes" they've got.

    Many observers suggest that girls - who have for decades been fed a diet of impossible-to-achieve social and body aspirations - are particularly badly affected by this 24-hour parade of narcissism.

    As a parent with a technology obsession, I'm the cause of my daughter's iPhone problem, but I can also be the solution. As impossible as it seems to me as I write this I've made a start. I've unsubscribed to the BBC's breaking news alerts and always put down my phone at the dinner table. I'm even thinking about quitting Facebook. According to one recent study, the average parent now posts 1,500 images of their child before they start primary school (frightening from a privacy point of view, if nothing else).

    My wife has suggested we go further: she thinks we should try a once-weekly technology break to make space for family time. The religious have done it for some time. They call it "Shabbat" - something that, as a secularist, I've always viewed with bafflement.

    My profession is a major roadblock to technological abstinence. My journalistic colleagues and I are all, both by choice and necessity, current-affairs crack-heads, hooked on the Sky breaking news ticker, obsessed with our Twitter feeds. But I'm beginning to realise that my daughter doesn't have a hope in hell of getting away from my phone unless I do it first.

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