UK Considers Smartphone Ban For Under-16s

2024-04-10 10:45:26

A leak claims the British government is considering legislating to ban the sale of smartphones to under-16s has split the right between conservatives and libertarians, torn between trying to manage the increasingly apparent damage caused by new technology or stepping back and letting the market decide.

“As conservatives know, not all change is progress”, says a prominent Tory MP of the damage being done to a generation of young people by unfettered access to social media as claims emerge the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is working on a ban on selling smartphones to children under the age of 16. The government, for its part, offered a “non-denial” to the reported leak, saying only they would not comment on speculation, but that “Our commitment to making the UK the safest place to be a child online is unwavering”.

Influential Westminster insider blog Guido Fawkes, which originally splashed the news of the apparently in-the-works phone ban, derides the idea as “Orwellian… illiberal” and doomed to failure.

Naturally, the law could be easily circumvented, and most phones for children are already bought by their parents anyway. But as some observers in favour of the change note, the law is a valuable tool for building new norms and that smartphone usage is not appropriate for developing minds and the government could back that position by statute.

Conservative Party Member of Parliament Miriam Cates, who is firmly on the pro-family wing of the party, said despite negative perceptions among parts of the right when it comes to the government banning things, there is no real objection in the country to bans on having sex with children or against children being able to drive cars on public roads, demonstrating that it is widely understood some behaviours are self-evidently harmful.

She wrote of the potential prohibition: “Libertarians will naturally oppose a ban on smartphones for kids. But it should be music to the ears of conservatives… regulation is necessary to protect children… There is now so much evidence that smartphones [and] social media are causing unacceptable harm to kids — loss of vital developmental experiences, increase in suicide, anxiety & sexual abuse — that it would be reckless not to act. As conservatives know, not all change is progress”.

Katherine Birbalsingh, a prominent schoolmaster and author popular with the Tory right for her no-nonsense approach to education and appeal to traditional teaching, also praised the plan. Tackling the criticism of the utility of bans head-on, she said: “Yes, parents could still buy phones for their kids but a law like this would help to move the country culturally. Parents need to understand just how damaging smartphones are for children.”

Former Police Officer, Army Officer, and brief leader of UKIP Henry Bolton observed that “many parents” would welcome a change in the law as it would fight the feeling of ‘fear of missing out’ among children when it comes to getting access to digital devices at a young age. He wrote that parents are “confronted by their child saying ‘why can’t I have a phone, everyone else has one’, and schools telling pupils to download apps. Schools themselves assume and expect pupils to have smartphones. It’s madness.”

Indeed, a Guardian report on the claimed fledgling policy notes recent polling finding that a majority of parents agree that smartphones should be banned for under-16s and that four-fifths of parents believe smartphones are “harmful” for children.

The policy and polling come amid discussions about the harm smartphones, unfettered internet access, social networks, and pornography are having on children. The long-awaited Cass report on child transgenderism was published on Wednesday and examines “inline stressors and harm” contributing to severely worsening mental health among children, particularly for young girls.

The paper noted more social media consumed daily by children was matched by a “stepwise increase in depressive symptom scores”, while citing numerous studies finding a correlation between “smartphone and social media use in mental distress and suicidality among young people, particularly girls, with a clear dose-response relationship”.

Also discussed was the ubiquity of porn in the lives of children, citing a 2023 report stating that “pornography is so widespread and normalised that children cannot ‘opt out’… The average age when children first see pornography is 13, but 10% have seen it by age 9, and 27% by 11… Some researchers (Nadrowski, 2023) suggest that exploration with gender-questioning youth should include consideration of their engagement with pornographic content.”

Separately, a New York Times best-selling nonfiction book on “the mental health impacts that a phone-based life has on children” found that “between 2010 and 2015, childhood and adolescence got rewired. As teens traded in their flip phones for smartphones packed with social media apps, time online soared while time engaging face-to-face with friends and family plummeted, and so did mental health.”

As reported last year, a paediatric study in the United States found “a significant correlation between excessive screen time and developmental delays in children”, while in 2022 it was asserted the average child in Britain spends four hours a day at a screen but just 40 minutes outside.

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UK Considers Smartphone Ban For Under-16s


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