MPs launch inquiry into children’s mobile phone use amid fears of grooming via social media

Young people were more likely to report being victims of ‘text pesting’ (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Young people were more likely to report being victims of ‘text pesting’ (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

MPs have launched an inquiry into the effects of screentime on children, amid fears young people are being recruited into county lines gangs via social media.

The education committee, made up of MPs from all parties, will quiz experts about the impact of apps, mobile phones and tablets on children’s education and well-being.

It comes after the committee received evidence during a previous hearing on child exploitation and county lines that social media platforms have been used by criminal gangs as a tool for grooming children.

It also comes after research by the Children’s Commissioner found the average age at which children first see pornography is 13.

Robin Walker, chair of the education committee, said: “The use of technology has contributed to huge advances in helping children with communication and accessing information, not least in how technology enabled remote learning during covid-19 lockdowns.

“But there are concerns too about the content children can experience online, the risks posed by online grooming and how too much screen time can affect their personal and school lives.”

The inquiry will scrutinise how schools are dealing with children’s access to the internet, and what guidance is currently being issued to families.

MPs will also examine how effectively schools are teaching children about online harms, and what policies they are using in relation to mobile phones.

MPs will also examine whether schools are too reliant on external sources such as Google for classroom activities.

Mr Walker added: “Over the last decade, teenagers’ access to the internet has become almost ubiquitous, and it is becoming ever more prevalent among young children.

“Whilst learning how to safely navigate the online world is an important skill, the Committee has already heard some deeply concerning evidence about the risks to children of too much screen time or of unsupervised access to online platforms.”

Research by Ofcom found that 99 per cent of households with children have access to the internet, and that by the age of eight a child will typically spend two hours and 45 minutes online per day. It rises to over four hours by age 11-12, while a child is still in primary school.

A 2020 report by Ofcom found that 57 per cent of five to seven-year-olds have their own tablet, 14 per cent have their own smartphone and 30 per cent use social media sites.

Among 12 to 15-year-olds, 91 per cent have their own smartphone, 59 per cent have their own tablet and 87 per cent use social media apps or sites.

Furthermore, 31 per cent of that age group said they had seen worrying or nasty content online, and 5 per cent said they had encountered material online promoting terrorism or radicalisation.

Academics and people who work in children’s health, education and consumer technology are being asked to submit evidence to the inquiry via the education committee’s website.