Volume 750: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2024
Miriam Cates
(Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)

“I beg to move,

That this House has considered the impact of smartphones and social media on children.

In this country, we often take the physical safety of our children for granted, but imagine if our streets were so lawless that it was unsafe for children to leave their homes. Imagine if, on their daily walk to school, our children had to witness the beheading of strangers or the violent rape of women and girls. Imagine if, when hanging out in the local park, it was normal for hundreds of people to accost our child and encourage them to take their own life. Imagine if it was a daily occurrence for our children to be propositioned for sex or blackmailed into stripping for strangers. Imagine if every mistake that our child made was advertised on public billboards, so that everyone could laugh and mock until the shame made life not worth living. This is not a horror movie or some imaginary wild west; this is the digital world that our children occupy, often for hours a day.

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Our kids are not okay. Since 2012, suicide rates for teenage boys in the UK have doubled. They have trebled for girls. Incidents of self-harm for 10 to 12-year-old girls have increased by 364%. Anxiety rates for the under-25s have trebled. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, loneliness and despair are growing among our youngest citizens. In just 15 years, childhood has been turned on its head.

These trends are not unique to the UK; they are happening across the western world and particularly in Anglophone and Nordic countries. In the first decade of this century, life was generally improving for children across the developed world. Educational attainment was rising, and depression and anxiety were stable or falling. But something happened in 2010 to change the direction of travel, and then from 2014, the decline accelerated rapidly. Whether we look at data for suicide, self-harm, gender confusion or anxiety, or at education scores across the western world, all these trends showed an inflection point in 2010 and a sharp rise from 2014. So, what happened in 2010 and 2014 to so seriously undermine children’s welfare?

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As the US psychologist Professor Jonathan Haidt has charted in his recent book, “The Anxious Generation”, there is now overwhelming evidence that all these tragic trends have been caused by the rise of smartphones and social media. The iPhone with a front-facing camera was introduced in 2010, and by around 2014, smartphones and social media had become ubiquitous for children. These products were never tested on children or certified as safe for children, yet 97% of British teens now own a smartphone and half of nine-year-olds use social media. In the US, the average 11 to 14-year-old spends nine hours a day online.

Smartphones and social media affect boys and girls differently. Some platforms, such as Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, have particularly negative effects for girls. These apps exploit natural female tendencies for visual social comparison, but instead of just comparing themselves with classmates, girls are now judged by millions of others against often fake images of what the female body should look like. Where boys are more prone to physical aggression, girls are more likely to employ relational aggression. It is bad enough to be on the receiving end of bullying in the school playground, but when friends and strangers can send hate-filled messages at any hour of the day or night, it is unsurprising that the wellbeing of girls in particular has collapsed as a result of social media.”

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Continue reading: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2024-05-14/debates/9EEEE3FC-7B2A-45E4-87E8-9449B603B1D9/SmartphonesAndSocialMediaChildren