RSPH has welcomed new advice for parents on Children and Young People’s (CYP) screen and social media use, issued today by the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) of the UK. 

RSPH, who provides the secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing, commends this advice, which encourages parents to agree boundaries around their children’s behaviour and time spent online (outside of educational use). 

Based on research conducted by University College London into screen-based activities and the mental health of children and young people, the advice to parents includes: 

  • Screen-free meal times
  • Leaving phones outside the bedroom to ensure good quality sleep
  • Talking openly with children about how and whether photos and information should be shared online

However, it is highlighted that there is currently insufficient robust scientific evidence on the impact of screen-time to support specific guidelines on optimal amounts of screen use. The CMOs therefore call for further research in this area, echoing previous calls made by RSPH in its 2017 report, #StatusofMind.

The CMOs also emphasise the duty of care which the technology industry have to their users, and call on the Government to uphold its intention to legislate to set clear expectations of companies.

RSPH welcomes the CMOs’ recommendations, including for:

  • The Government to set clear legislation for the technology industry to ensure CYP are protected online.
  • The technology industry to share data they hold in an anonymised form with recognised and registered public-sector researchers for ethically agreed research, in order to improve our scientific evidence base.
  • England’s Department of Health and Social Care’s Chief Scientific Advisor to convene a research seminar to identify the avenues for undertaking and funding future research in this area, involving the four nations, other research funders and the industry. 
  • Industry to contribute to funding the required independent research over the next decade.

Shirley Cramer, CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health said: “In the absence of more robust scientific evidence into the long term effects of screen based activities on young people, this advice is a vital step in the right direction towards the establishment of much needed clearer guidance for parents - guidance they are crying out for in order to protect their children in a wild west digital world. 

There is now a generation of digital natives whose world increasingly exists online, and these welcome recommendations highlight the duty of care which the technology industry has to protect our children and young people. 

It cannot be stressed enough that further research must be prioritised as a matter of urgency to improve our understanding of the relationship between screen-use, and in particular social media use, on our young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

The CMO is right to call for the Chief Scientific Advisor to identify avenues for undertaking and funding independent future research in this area. It is essential that industry urgently step up to the plate, and share important data to enable essential research. Over the next decade, the involvement of all four nations and vital support from industry will be key if this research is to be impactful.”

RSPH and the APPG on Social Media on Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing will soon be publishing a report on their recent inquiry into Managing the Impact of Social Media on Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. The report aims to build the evidence base on the issue and also inform progressive and practical solutions. This will include proposed guidance for industry and users in how to enhance the positive impacts of social media, whilst mitigating the negative consequences which it can have on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.