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Parents turn to technology as way of keeping up with children

From going free-range to putting trackers on kids, a trends experts tells Lisa Salmon about the predictions for mums and dads in the year ahead

From children being seen and not heard, to controlled crying and the naughty step, parenting trends come and go. But what might 2017 hold for child-rearing?

Joanna Feeley, chief executive of the lifestyle futures agency Trend Bible, works with global parenting brands to predict change years in advance. Here are the trends she predicts will feature in the coming 12 months.

Feeley says parents are fed up with drinking bad coffee in soulless soft play areas, and in 2017 will seek spaces which accommodate the needs of both the parent and child.

"Soft play areas might seem really great fun to children, but parents don't see why they should tolerate bad coffee and stale muffins," she points out.

Parents also have higher expectations of what their children eat in these play areas, she adds, and as a result, many more play cafes will pop up throughout the UK, and established cultural venues, like galleries and museums, will switch their menus to provide better quality food for parents and children.

Free-range parenting is about fostering exploration and an adventurous spirit, with mistakes seen as an important part of the learning process.

"Young parents seek to relate to their children on a peer level, and provide them with choice, freedom of expression and valuable experiences," says Feeley. "They're willing to take risks to equip their children with the life skills needed to make independent, intelligent decisions."

Issues around sustainability, and reports of harmful chemicals surrounding plastic, means modern parents are concerned about the use of plastic in the baby and children's markets, says Feeley, who predicts that with safety at the front of parents' minds, this will be a growing concern in 2017.

Parents will increasingly use devices and smartphone technology to track children, too.

Feeley says: "Monitoring children was viewed with suspicion by most people until recently, but parents are desperate to afford their kids the opportunity to explore the world beyond their back garden. The safest and least intrusive way to do this is to get them to wear a monitoring device."

Being able to take a step back from it all, breathe and appreciate right now will be a key focus, says Feeley, and a lesson parents are desperate to teach their children. Expect to see more mindfulness and yoga classes for children in schools.

While parents are aware technology will play a huge role in their children's future careers, Feeley stresses: "It's a challenge trying to balance this with an ability to switch off and take control."

Mobile and on-demand technology's created a huge shift in routines, leading to multi-screening in the same room. Families can sit together in one room while on independent screens, and these behaviours can have a considerable impact on family life.

"We've seen an increase in the popularity of open-plan living, to the extent that the whole family now lives, eats and socialises in one space," observes Feeley. "Families are only just starting to explore the challenges of living this way, and brands are starting to devise solutions to allow us to control light and acoustics when we may have several activities happening at one time, from cooking, to working on a laptop, to watching a movie."

The use of digital devices is starving society of tactile stimulation, says Feeley, and, as parents turn to smartphones for convenience or entertainment, screen time replaces time spent cuddling. Touch is vital to a child's development and wellbeing, and for 2017, Feeley predicts messages encouraging parents to cherish the closeness they have with their children will be key, as well as huggable products that promote the sense of touch.

Because smart devices offer constant stimulation, children are forgetting how to be bored, says Feeley. But this downtime is essential for creative and emotional development, and she predicts parents will increasingly encourage children to have unscheduled, unsupervised playtime away from smart devices.

Feeley points out that, ironically, mothers who work more hours today spend more time with their children than stay-at-home mothers did in the Sixties. In 1965, mothers spent an average 36 minutes per day actively engaged in teaching and playing with their kids, yet by 1998, that time had increased to 129 minutes.

But she says multi-tasking makes modern parents feel pressed for time, especially when both parents work long hours while juggling family commitments.

"Along with the convenience of new technology has come an increase in anxiety, as we're connected and contactable 24/7," she says.

"Parents feel stressed, rushed and have little quality time with their families, and we think these parenting trends paint a portrait of modern family life."

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