In the past month, Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, has warned the NHS is “picking up the pieces” of an epidemic of mental illness among children, fuelled by social media, and pledged to “ramp up” mental health care to cope with it.
The government and information commissioner are drawing up proposals for statutory codes that could impose curbs on the “compulsive” techniques used by the social media and gaming firms to keep children online such as switching off night-time notifications and video auto-play.
The average time spent online for all children, aged five to 15, is 2hrs 54mins a day at the weekend, and 1hr 54mins during the week. It is almost double what it was a decade ago.
However, it masks big variations with 11% classed as “extreme” users, spending more than five hours a day online at the weekend, and 3% more than eight hours a day, equivalent to more than 200,000 children aged 5-15.
Research by UCL found teenage girls who had spent more than an hour a day on social media from the age of 10 were more likely to suffer emotional and social problems. Boys who tended to play more video games were less affected.
Professor Yvonne Kelly, who led the UCL study, believed some form of enforced time limits on usage was needed given the increasing evidence that heavy use was linked to mental ill health: “The companies have a big part to play in this as they have very sophisticated ways of getting all of us to use their application. I would not put it all at the parents’ door.”