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The UK’s Chief Medical Officers have published advice on social media and screen time for the first time.
Although they say social media and screen time can be hugely beneficial for children and young people - in encouraging social interaction, education and easy access to information - they say it should not intrude on exercise or quality sleep.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said: “Time spent online can be of great benefit to children and young people, providing opportunities for learning and skills development, as well as allowing young people to find support and information.
“But we need to take a precautionary approach and our advice will support children to reap these benefits and protect them from harm.
“Technology is an unavoidable aspect of modern life and technology companies have a duty of care.
“They must make more effort to keep their users safe from harm, particularly children and young people.”
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The Chief Medical Officer is right to be cautious about how long children are spending looking at screens rather than talking to their friends or getting a good night’s sleep.
“We do not yet have enough evidence to draw a definite causal link between amount of screen time use and mental health problems but it is clear that some of the content that young people are viewing online, such as pro-anorexia, suicide or self-harming content, can be incredibly harmful.
“Parents, social media companies and health professionals all have a duty to protect young people from harmful images and help them to negotiate the web safely.
“We know from the recent survey of the prevalence of children’s mental health that it is the most vulnerable young people with mental health disorders that are more likely to be adversely affected by time spent on social media.
“Although we still need more research, a precautionary approach is particularly important for very young children, as, there is emerging evidence on the effects of screen-time on development and the harms of screen-based addiction in older children.”