Children are consuming time on the internet “like junk food” and parents should intervene to reduce their screen usage, the children’s commissioner has said.
Anne Longfield also criticised how social media channels draw children into spending more time online.
Ms Longfield has launched a campaign to help parents with the issue.
In an interview with The Observer, she said: “It’s something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays; that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food.
“None of us as parents would want our children to eat junk food all the time.
“For those same reasons we shouldn’t want our children to do the same with their online time.”
The commissioner added: “When phones, social media and games make us feel worried, stressed and out of control, it means we haven’t got the balance right.
“With your diet, you know that, because you don’t feel that good. It’s the same with social media.”
In the US parents are told children aged up to two should have no screen time at all.
The American Academy of Paediatrics says kids aged 18 months to five can watch “high quality” TV, such as Sesame Street, with their parents.
“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” said Jenny Radesky, the lead author of the AAP report Media and Young Minds.
Children aged five to 15 are spending 15 hours a week on the internet in the U.K..
Ms Longfield said children should be helped to understand that sites encourage them to continue their use based on what they have previously been doing online.
A study earlier this year of screen time and mental wellbeing among teenagers suggested that moderate use of devices may be beneficial.
The research, which appeared in the journal Psychological Science, was based self-reported data from 120,000 15-year-olds in England.
I’m in two minds on this issue. I think it’s about striking a balance. On the one hand parents should be prioritising reading books, playing outside and creative play like building blocks at a young age. On the other hand I think we all need to use the TV to keep curious toddlers distracted at times.
I have stuck my daughter in front of an iPad with Peppa on many times so I could breastfeed my youngest daughter easier. The government wants me to breastfeed exclusively for six months. It can’t have it all I’m afraid! If parents are to cope, sometimes we need a little screen time, as long as it’s not all day, every day, I say it’s fine.
What do you think? How much screen time do your kids have?