11 September 2023

The Education Committee today launches a new inquiry, screen time: impacts on education and wellbeing.

MPs will look into how apps, the internet and access to smart phones and tablets can impact children’s education and wellbeing, from the early years to the start of adulthood.

As well as hearing the latest research on the risks and benefits of children’s exposure to screen time, the cross-party Committee will examine the current practices used by schools, and guidance offered to families, about how to manage children’s use of online resources and social media. The inquiry’s full terms of reference are included below.

Research by the media and communications regulator Ofcom in 2021 found that 99% of households with children have access to the internet, and that by the age of eight a child will typically spend 2 hour and 45 minutes online per day. It rises to over four hours by age 11-12, while a child is still in primary school.

2020 report from Ofcom found that 57% of five to seven-year-olds have their own tablet, 14% have their own smartphone and 30% use social media sites. Among 12 to 15-year-olds, 91% have their own smartphone; 59% have their own tablet; and 87% use social media apps/sites. Furthermore, 31% of that age group said they had seen worrying or nasty content online, and 5% said they had encountered material online promoting terrorism or radicalisation.

This inquiry comes after the Committee received evidence during a previous hearing on child exploitation and county lines that social media platforms have been used by criminal gangs as a tool for grooming children. It also follows research by the Children’s Commissioner for England which found that the average at which children first see pornography is 13, and that significant numbers of boys and girls aged 16-21 had sought out online pornography.

Chair’s comment

Education Committee Chair, Robin Walker MP said:

“Over the last decade, teenagers’ access to the internet has become almost ubiquitous, and it is becoming ever more prevalent among young children. Whilst learning how to safely navigate the online world is an important skill, the Committee has already heard some deeply concerning evidence about the risks to children of too much screen time or of unsupervised access to online platforms.

“The use of technology has contributed to huge advances in helping children with communication and accessing information, not least in how technology enabled remote learning during covid-19 lockdowns. But there are concerns too about the content children can experience online, the risks posed by online grooming and how too much screen time can affect their personal and school lives.

“From this inquiry we hope to form positive recommendations for both government and the education sector on how to harness the benefits that online resources can offer for children’s education and development. It will also explore the potential ways that screen time can impact children’s mental health and wellbeing, and ways that this can be mitigated against through education in school and safeguarding practices.”