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MPs to probe kids’ screen time

September 11, 2023

By Colin Mann

The Education Committee of the UK House of Commons is launching a new inquiry into the effects of screen time on education and wellbeing.

MPs will look into how apps, the Internet and access to smart phones and tablets can impact children’s education and wellbeing, from the early years to the start of adulthood.

As well as hearing the latest research on the risks and benefits of children’s exposure to screen time, the cross-party Committee will examine the current practices used by schools, and guidance offered to families, about how to manage children’s use of online resources and social media.

Research by media and communications regulator Ofcom in 2021 found that 99 per cent of households with children have access to the Internet, and that by the age of eight a child will typically spend 2 hour and 45 minutes online per day. It rises to over four hours by age 11-12, while a child is still in primary school.

A 2020 report from Ofcom found that 57 per cent of five to seven-year-olds have their own tablet, 14 per cent have their own smartphone and 30 per cent use social media sites. Among 12 to 15-year-olds, 91 per cent have their own smartphone; 59 per cent have their own tablet; and 87 per cent use social media apps/sites. Furthermore, 31 per cent of that age group said they had seen worrying or nasty content online, and 5 per cent said they had encountered material online promoting terrorism or radicalisation.

This inquiry comes after the Committee received evidence during a previous hearing on child exploitation and county lines that social media platforms have been used by criminal gangs as a tool for grooming children. It also follows research by the Children’s Commissioner for England which found that the average at which children first see pornography is 13, and that significant numbers of boys and girls aged 16-21 had sought out online pornography.

“Over the last decade, teenagers’ access to the Internet has become almost ubiquitous, and it is becoming ever more prevalent among young children,” commented Education Committee Chair Robin Walker MP. “Whilst learning how to safely navigate the online world is an important skill, the Committee has already heard some deeply concerning evidence about the risks to children of too much screen time or of unsupervised access to online platforms.”

“The use of technology has contributed to huge advances in helping children with communication and accessing information, not least in how technology enabled remote learning during covid-19 lockdowns. But there are concerns too about the content children can experience online, the risks posed by online grooming and how too much screen time can affect their personal and school lives.

“From this inquiry we hope to form positive recommendations for both government and the education sector on how to harness the benefits that online resources can offer for children’s education and development. It will also explore the potential ways that screen time can impact children’s mental health and wellbeing, and ways that this can be mitigated against through education in school and safeguarding practices.”

The Committee welcomes written evidence submissions from academics, experts and those who work in children’s health, education and consumer technology on the Terms of Reference set out below. Submissions should respond by October 16th 2023.

Terms of Reference

  • What is the current understanding of how screen time can support and impact children’s development and educational outcomes, including the effect on concentration and behaviour?
  • What is the current understanding of how screen time can support or impact children’s wellbeing and mental health, including the use of social media?
  • How effective is digital safety education in schools, for example the PHSE curriculum, in educating children about screen time and online harms?
  • How can schools and parents be better supported to manage children’s screen usage, for example, through age-related guidance? Could the Department for Education be doing more in this area?
  • What policies and practices are schools developing to manage children’s recreational screen usage, particularly mobile phones?
  • How is screen use as an academic tool being managed in schools, for example, in lessons or for homework?
  • To what extent are schools reliant on external sources, such as the use of Google for education and classroom activities?

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