Mental health warning over children as young as two accessing social media

A new report by Barnado's has raised concerns about toddler exposure to social media [Photo: Getty]
A new report by Barnado's has raised concerns about toddler exposure to social media [Photo: Getty]

Parents are being warned they could be damaging toddlers’ mental health by allowing them to access social media from the age of two.

A new report from charity Barnado’s has raised concerns about potential exposure to inappropriate content and also how use of social media may affect the communication skills of young children.

More than 60 per cent of professionals working with vulnerable children in the past six months said they were worried about under-five use of social media and other websites.

The new report, Left to Their Own Devices, gathered insight from 80 practitioners across more than 30 UK services, which suggested that some children start looking at social media as early as two-years-old.

The charity’s frontline staff expressed alarm that parents were handing iPads and phones over to toddlers to “keep them quiet,” something most parents would no doubt admit to.

But this has lead to fears about their safety.

Half of service practitioners responding said they had worked with children aged five to 10 who had been exposed to unsuitable or harmful materials online, and more than one third said children in that age group had been victims of cyberbullying.

READ MORE: Psychiatrists urged to ask under-18s about social media use

Commenting on the findings Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Although the internet offers incredible opportunities to learn and play, it also carries serious 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 wellbeing 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.”

The report revealed children as young as two were accessing social media [Photo: Getty]
The report revealed children as young as two were accessing social media [Photo: Getty]

READ MORE: How to tell if your child’s screen time is a problem

Now the charity are urging the Government to commission detailed research into the potential links between social media and mental ill health and hopes there will be increased investment in education about social media for both children and parents.

The report comes after parents were warned earlier this year that babies and toddlers should not be left to passively watch TV or other screens.

According to new guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) sedentary screen time, including watching TV, phones and tablets, should not happen before a child is two.

The WHO advice is based on available evidence, but there is still a lack of definitive research into the harms and possible benefits of screen use.

Earlier this year a study of 2,400 children, published in the JAMA Paediatrics, revealed that screen time is causing toddlers to lose coordinations skills like those needed to tie their shoelaces, new research suggests.

The research found that more screen time was linked to lower scores in “milestone” tests of coordination, as well as communication, problem-solving and social skills.

But it is not clear whether screen time is directly to blame. There’s a possibility that time spent on screens could go hand-in-hand with other factors linked to delayed development, such as upbringing and how a child spends their remaining time.

There seems to be some conflicting opinions on the impact of screen time on children’s health and wellbeing.

Earlier this year, parents were told to worry less about the effects of screen time as there is little evidence that it’s harmful to children.

Instead, new guidance from leading paediatricians suggests that parents should run through a checklist to monitor the impact screen time is having on their children.

But back in September new research has proven that more than two hours of recreational screen time a day could seriously affect a child’s learning.