MPs target social media and screens with cross-party inquiry

The Commons Science and Technology Committee is on the lookout for perspectives about digital technology, as part of an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on the health of young people.

MPs target social media and screens with cross-party inquiry

Launched today, the inquiry is targeting the ways social media and screen-based technology can affect childrens’ mental wellbeing. Citing an Education Policy Institute report, the committee notes 95% of UK 15-year-olds use social media before or after school, and half of 9–16 year olds used smartphones on a daily basis.

Whether or not this amount of screen time is dangerous is disputable. While some reports have recorded increased blood pressure and potential damage to cognitive capacity from excessive screen time, others have found no connection between screen time and health risks. A 2017 study from Oxford went so far as to claim current guidelines around screen time for children may be too strict.

It’s a nuanced area, and likely has much to do with what activity is actually being undertaken on a smartphone. The inquiry is keen to colour in its investigation with accounts from the public, and is particularly interested in details of initiatives undertaken, either by children, schools and youth organisations, to help young people cope with the digital landscape.

The committee also wants perspectives about, amongst other things, the well-being benefits from social media usage, as well as aspects of social media that magnify addictive behaviour, how awareness of potential risks could be increased for children, schools and social media companies, and where responsibility and accountability should lie for such measures.

That latter point is certainly a nebulous one. Should rules around screen time and social media use be written by parents, government or technology companies? Regardless of your answer to that, it’s clear that children are being left in the middle – with a damning report from the children’s commissioner for England arguing kids are “left to learn about the internet on their own with parents vainly hoping that they will benefit from its opportunities while avoiding its pitfalls”.

Those that would like to submit a response are invited to do so on the committee’s inquiry page. The deadline is 6 April 2018 and you’ll need to keep it under 3,000 words.

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