More than two thirds of parents think there should be a digital age of consent

More than two thirds of parents think the Government should introduce a digital age of consent

  • 67% of parents of 10-18 year olds think the Government should legislate on an appropriate age for the use of smartphones
  • Nearly half - 44% - support a ban on children under 16 having smartphones
  • 92% of parents think social media and the internet are having a negative impact on the mental health of young people
  • New research comes after Whatsapp bans under 16s from using its platform

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.

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

Meawhile France is to impose a total ban on pupils using mobile phones in primary and secondary schools starting in September 2018. Phones are already forbidden in French classrooms but starting next school year, pupils will be barred from taking them out at breaks, lunch times and between lessons.

Other Priory 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
  • 78% of parents want social media firms to introduce a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been spending a lot of time on their sites
  • 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%)

Priory child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, Group Associate Director at the Priory Group of mental healthcare hospitals and clinics, said; “It is really important that there are enforceable rules in place for children when using mobile phones especially when it comes to social media.

“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 will 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 ‘disconnect’ as that could be seen as socially damaging,” Dr van Zwanenberg said.

“I have seen a rise in young patients citing 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 girls 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 the phone

Dr van Zwanenberg provides tips for parents, and has also published a guide for parents about how to talk to your child about sexting:

  • 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 smartphones and social media, and a total restriction may be necessary, for periods of time, when they lose parents’ trust. Year 7 parents of one school in Barnet 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. However a persistent, ongoing ban may lead to secret access, and greater reward and excitement from accessing social media, and won’t allow for safe learning around future use.
  • 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 electronic devices from your children at least an hour before going to sleep and never leave devices charging in the bedroom.
  • Implement rules on which social media sites they are allowed to use. Limit them to just one 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.



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About Priory and MEDIAN

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions, including depression, anxiety, addictions and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support autistic adults and adults with a learning disability, Prader-Willi Syndrome and brain injuries, as well as older people, within our specialist residential care and supported living facilities – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.

Priory is part of the MEDIAN Group, one of Europe’s leading providers of high quality mental health and rehabilitation services. The MEDIAN Group comprises 290 facilities with 5,000 beds caring for 28,000 people in the UK, 120 facilities with 20,000 beds caring for around 250,000 patients in Germany, and 15 facilities with 2,000 beds caring for 13,000 people in Spain, with more than 29,000 employees overall.

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