Home Tech A quarter of UK three- and four-year-olds own a smartphone, data shows

A quarter of UK three- and four-year-olds own a smartphone, data shows

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A quarter of UK three- and four-year-olds own a smartphone, data shows

A quarter of three and four-year-olds in the UK now own a smartphone, while half of children under 13 are on social media, according to new data that comes as ministers consider banning all children under 16 years of age possess a mobile phone.

The figures, from communications regulator Ofcom, show high and growing rates of online activity by pre-school children, with 38% of five to seven-year-olds using social media, up from 30%. % a year ago, and 76% of them use a tablet.

The findings will strengthen the argument of those close to Rishi Sunak who have been urging him to clamp down on phone and social media use by young children.

Ministers will begin a consultation on what measures to take within weeks, according to government sources.

The consultation will include a proposal to ban the sale of mobile phones to under-16s, another to make it easier for parents to put parental controls on devices and another to increase the minimum age for social media sites from 13 to 16. It also found that half of children aged three to 12 use at least one social media app, despite the minimum age requirement of 13.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said in a statement: “Children as young as five should not be accessing social media, and these harsh findings show why our Online Safety Act is essential.

“Most platforms say they do not allow children under 13 to access their sites, and the law will ensure that companies enforce these limits or they could face massive fines. “If they fail to comply with Ofcom decisions and keep children safe, their bosses could face prison.”

He added: “Protecting children online is our number one priority and we will not hesitate to take advantage of this law to keep them safe.”

The figures come amid growing evidence of the impact of widespread social media use among children. The United States government has warned that social media represents a “profound risk” to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents, as the number of children and adolescents suffering from depression and anxiety has increased by almost 30% in the United States. last years.

Jonathan Haidt, an American academic whose book The Anxious Generation has been cited as influential in No 10 thinking about children and social media, told The Guardian that the mobile phone ownership figures were “very disturbing”. Ofcom research also showed that around a quarter of children aged five to seven owned a smartphone.

Michelle Donelan, technology secretary, said the figures showed why the government’s Online Safety Act had been essential. Photo: Andy Rain/EPA

“Something must be done to reverse this trend,” said Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He added that parents should work with schools to establish a new norm: “Do not give children a smartphone before the end of secondary education, around age 16.”

Child online safety advocates also called on the government to act. The Molly Rose Foundation said Ofcom had to crack down on platforms that “turn a blind eye” to age requirements, while the NSPCC called for “strict enforcement” of the Online Safety Act, which contains provisions for enforce age limits on social media.

Joe Ryrie, co-founder of the group Smartphone Free Childhood, said statistics show that social media and smartphone use “is a systemic problem and it’s only getting worse.”

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Ofcom’s annual study into children’s online habits also found that the proportion of children aged five to seven sending messages or making voice and video calls had increased from 59% to 65% compared to a year ago. The number of children in that cohort using WhatsApp increased from 29% to 37% and the proportion using TikTok increased from 25% to 30%.

Overall, 96% of all children between the ages of three and 17 are connected to the Internet, and the vast majority of the 4% who are not yet connected are three or four years old. Even among that demographic (the youngest children surveyed) 84% use the Internet.

In general, the youngest children who are allowed to connect to the Internet use a tablet, while children of high school age are more likely to have a smartphone; More than 95% of children aged 12 to 15 have their own mobile phone.

The smartphone figures were based on an Ofcom survey of 2,480 parents of children aged three to 17. He defined a smartphone as a phone that allows people to easily download applications, view websites, and generally connect to the Internet.

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