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UK MPs Urge Government to Consider Smartphone Ban for Under-16s

ByHuey Yee Ong

May 28, 2024
UK MPs Urge Government to Consider Smartphone Ban for Under-16s

UK MPs Urge Government to Consider Smartphone Ban for Under-16s

UK MPs from the House of Commons education committee have proposed the next government to implement sweeping regulations on smartphone and social media usage among individuals under 16 years of age.

The recommendations, laid out in a comprehensive report on the impact of screen time on children’s education and wellbeing, suggest a total ban on smartphone sales to minors and a statutory ban on mobile phones in schools.

Concerns About Dangers of Unregulated Screen Time

Robin Walker, the Conservative chair of the committee, pointed out the severe implications of unregulated screen time, noting its “clear negative impact” on the wellbeing of children and young people. Walker highlighted multiple dangers posed by the online world, such as exposure to pornography and the use of social platforms by criminal gangs to recruit children.

He emphasized the challenging situation for parents and educators, urging government action to support them. “From exposure to pornography, to criminal gangs using online platforms to recruit children, the online world poses serious dangers. Parents and schools face an uphill struggle, and government must do more to help them meet this challenge,” said Walker.

A Call for Government and Regulatory Action

The report comes amid considerations by Rishi Sunak to impose a ban on selling smartphones to under-16s and to increase the minimum age for social media accounts. Although a planned consultation on these proposals remains unpublished, the committee’s report pushes for the involvement of Ofcom, the communications regulator, to initiate a consultation on these new measures.

These measures include mandatory parental controls on smartphones, application store regulations to prevent access to inappropriate content, and the potential for a complete ban on smartphone possession by children under 16.

A key proposal from the report is to legally enforce a ban on mobile phone use in schools throughout England, building on the existing guidance issued to headteachers which prohibits mobile phone usage during the school day. The report suggests a formal monitoring regime to assess the effectiveness of a non-statutory ban and recommends a statutory enactment if the voluntary approach fails within a year.

Rethinking the Age of Digital Consent

Moreover, the committee advocates reevaluating the age at which children can open social media accounts and access their personal data online, suggesting an increase to 16 years old. Currently, the minimum age is 13, which the report argues is too young given that other age-related thresholds, such as the age for sexual consent (16), driving (17), and voting (18), are set higher.

The impetus for these stringent recommendations is supported by alarming research cited in the report, including a 52% increase in screen time among children between 2020 and 2022, and data showing nearly a quarter of young individuals exhibit addictive behavior towards their smartphones. Additionally, disturbing findings from the children’s commissioner for England revealed that 79% of children encounter violent pornography before the age of 18.

Public reaction has been mixed. Daisy Greenwell, co-founder of the campaign group Smartphone Free Childhood, welcomed the committee’s findings, stating it aligns with the concerns of a “grassroots community of 100,000 parents.”

On the other hand, Ian Russell, chair of the Molly Rose Foundation, cautioned against the effectiveness of outright bans, suggesting that such measures might lead to “worse outcomes” by penalizing children for tech companies’ failures to safeguard them. Russell advocates for a focus on more robust regulations rather than outright prohibitions.

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Featured Image courtesy of ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

Huey Yee Ong

Hello, from one tech geek to another. Not your beloved TechCrunch writer, but a writer with an avid interest in the fast-paced tech scenes and all the latest tech mojo. I bring with me a unique take towards tech with a honed applied psychology perspective to make tech news digestible. In other words, I deliver tech news that is easy to read.

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