Summary of some of the harms against children from smartphones
  • A quarter of 3–4-year-olds now own a smartphone
  • Studies have shown that greater screen use is associated with lower language skills, developmental delays in communication and parent-child talk in very young children.
  • In older children and teens, problematic smartphone use has been consistently associated with poor measures of mental health, particularly relating to depression, anxiety, stress, poor sleep quality and day-to-day functional impairment demonstrated by poor educational attainment. Children with existing mental health problems or other vulnerabilities are at a higher risk of harm in all these areas.
  • Multiple studies have identified evidence of a strong correlation between excessive smartphone use and psychiatric diagnoses, including ADHD and OCD.
  • Psychosocial harms from cyber-bullying, risky sexual behaviours online, sextortion and sexploitation continue to remain highly prevalent in children and 2023 was the highest year on record for self-generated sexual imagery online of 7-10-year-olds. The majority of sexual abuse of children online is now committed by other children. This is believed to be related to premature exposure to violent porn online.
  • Other child health harms have been identified. Eyesight, where a massive increase in child myopia has been observed. Also, strong links between excessive smartphone use and childhood obesity have now been evidenced.

All these harms are continuing to escalate with no sign of significant improvement in any way, within a backdrop of big tech making ever riskier moves to exploit our children’s safety and data, for example, by recently lowering the WhatsApp age to 13 and enabling end-to-end encryption on Facebook and Instagram messages.

It is anticipated by the National Crime Agency that the latter move alone will mean many more sexual crimes against children online will become untraceable.