Parents could be damaging the mental health of their toddlers by allowing them to use social media as young as two years old, a charity has warned.
A new report from Barnardo’s has raised concerns that viewing material on social media sites could be damaging to the social development of young children.
Mental health concerns
The children’s charity gathered insight from 80 children’s services practitioners who have worked with vulnerable young people in the past six months. Findings revealed that more than 60 per cent of these practitioners are worried about the use of social media sites among under fives.
Concerns were raised not only because of potential exposure to inappropriate content, but also the impact social media use may have on the communication skills of young children.
Staff at the charity expressed concern that parents were often handing over iPads and phones to their toddlers in order to “keep them quiet”, but it has led to fears over their safety and mental wellbeing.
Speaking of the findings, Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said, “Although the internet offers incredible opportunities to learn and play, it also carries series new risks from cyberbullying to online grooming.
“And, as our new report shows, these risks can have a devastating impact on the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children. Recently, the Government has proposed welcome changes that would help regulate the internet and make it safer for children.
“It’s vital that the next Prime Minister keeps up the momentum and focuses specifically on protecting the most vulnerable.
“Our new report also calls for more research to help us understand the impact of social media on children’s mental health – high quality education for children, parents and professionals; and a focus on well-being in every school.
“Children today see the internet as a natural part of their world. Our job as a society is to make sure children are protected online just as they are offline.”
Harmful online content
Half of the practitioners surveyed said that children they had dealt with between the ages of five and 10 had been exposed to unsuitable or harmful content online, with the numbers rising to 78 per cent among 11 to 15 year olds.
The same age group also reported incidents of cyberbullying (80 per cent), sharing of personal content (87 per cent), online grooming (78 per cent) and family tensions due to social media use (78 per cent) in the last six months.
The warning comes following a white paper published by the Government on online harms, which proposed introducing strict new rules that require social media companies to take responsibility for users and their safety.
Child sexual abuse and exploitation, harassment, cyberstalking and hate crime are among the list of areas the Governments wants to be legally overseen by an independent regulator.