More than two thirds (67%) of parents with children aged 10-18 think that the Government should introduce legislation setting out an appropriate age for the use of smartphones among young people, according to new research commissioned by the Priory Group, the mental healthcare specialists.
And as many as 44% of parents say they would support a ban on children under 16 having smartphones, saying young people only need a basic phone to keep safe.
The polling comes as surveys show 65% of 8-11 year olds own a smartphone
Newcastle was recently named the kids’ “smartphone capital of Britain” – with 90.5 per cent of 8-11 year olds owning one
Meanwhile children up to 15 years old in France were banned this week from using their smartphones in school, come September.
The country had already enacted a smartphone ban during class hours, but this legislation will extend to breaks and meal times, effectively completely banning smartphones from schools with students under the age of 15. French lawmakers passed the law forbidding schoolchildren from going on their devices during breaks, in corridors, playgrounds or at lunchtime.
Other Priory Group poll findings show:
- 92% of parents think that social media/the internet is having a negative impact on the mental health of young people, with cyber-bullying (50%), lowering self-esteem (41%), anxiety over getting enough likes/followers (40%), loss of face-to-face interaction (47%), loss of quality sleep (43%), and its encouragement of early sexualisation (39%) being the main reasons
- 79% of parents think that under-18s should have the right to delete embarrassing and damaging material they have posted on social media that could later harm their job or education prospects
- Almost half of parents say that their child worries about his or her appearance as a result of the internet and social media (49%)
Leading Priory child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, Group Associate Medical Director at the Priory Group of mental healthcare hospitals and clinics, said; “Primary and secondary schools in the UK could work with parents to develop a pact where all parents in a certain year group – perhaps even up to GCSE level – agree they will not buy a smartphone for their child, just a very basic phone. That is all they need. Then parents can say ‘no’ to smartphones, and resist pester power. If everyone does that, no child is unique in their class for not having a smartphone. Schools would benefit because children would not be half asleep in class having stayed on their smartphones most of the night. Children would be alleviated, in part, of many of the burdens that come with phones and checking social media. Parents would save money on bills and help protect the mental health of their children.
“Because in truth smartphones are not just phones as such, but highly sophisticated computers.
“This wouldn’t be screen time dictatorship. Children would still have access to laptops and iPads at home and in lessons perhaps, where allowed. But it would be a start. With half of teens now feeling addicted to their mobile devices, it would help improve mental health and behaviour, and reduce the daily conflict over phone use.”
She added: “There is ample evidence to demonstrate the negative effects of phone time on older children, particularly on those using them for more than three hours a day; these include structural and functional brain imaging changes, increases in emotional distress and higher rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as lack of sleep.
“Phone time stimulates the ‘reward centre’ of the brain, acting as a digital drug, so young people want more and more of it but young people should be active, investigating life in the real world and having lots of social interaction to develop healthily, physically and mentally.
“Priory’s poll suggests many parents think there is a need to regulate because essentially you are giving a child a device which lets them have access to sites which promote pornography, gambling and violence, and allow cyberbullying. Parents argue that we protect children from all sorts of things by law, but we have let them have access to smartphones without thinking through the addictive and menacing consequences.
“Young people also find themselves chasing likes and becoming very anxious about their appearance online and offline, and feeling that they can’t ‘switch off’ as that could be seen as socially damaging,” Dr van Zwanenberg added.
“I have seen a rise in young patients citing their own use of social media as a major contributing factor to their developing depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Young people are increasingly exposed to unhealthy and unrealistic physiques. Priory consultants visited a school where the vast majority of young girls they spoke to said they felt compelled to digitally enhance their image before displaying it on social media, which is very worrying. Helping young people develop a positive identity, by building confidence, self-esteem and interests, without reference to weight or looks, is imperative. Ensuring they understand that social media presents a distorted reality is crucial.”
How to get a child off their devices
Dr van Zwanenberg provides tips for parents, and has also published a guide for parents about how to talk to your child about sexting.
She has also produced a parent’s guide on coping with teenage depression.
- Meal times should always be phone free – and that includes for parents
- Encourage activities that involve meeting and seeing people, such as attending clubs, having friends over, playing sport or just going to shops. All these offer opportunities to build self-esteem and allow for healthier social comparison – away from the digital world
- Have consistent time limits on screen time and make sure that it isn’t taking time away from sleep or physical activity. There is lots of software out there to limit children’s screen time
- Have “media-free” times with your kids and “media-free” spots in the house like bedrooms. Young people need time boundaries when accessing social media and a total restriction may be necessary, for periods of time, when they lose parents’ trust, so you may need to turn off your wifi. Year 7 parents of one school in Barnet reportedly got together recently and decided not to give their children smartphones, which the majority agreed to. It was based on a recommendation from the school, but led by parents
- Walk and talk – without the distraction of the TV or tablet. Use the time to chat openly; laugh and maybe broach sensitive subjects that have been off limits during term-time (parents might be surprised at what teenagers suddenly decide to share –and vice versa).
- Reintroduce a games night at home – playing board games or card games. You might be surprised how much your child enjoys these and how they enjoy the competitive nature of such games, playing against family members
- Children must have time to relax as well as get an adequate amount of restorative sleep. Remove phones and electronic devices from your children at least an hour before going to sleep and never leave devices charging in the bedroom. We need to get smart about phones.
- Implement rules on which social media sites they are allowed to use and consider investing in software which allows you to see exactly what your child is watching, and when. Limit them to just one social media account and make sure the correct privacy settings are in place and you are aware of what they are posting and who they are communicating with.