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Children aged five and under at risk of internet addiction – Barnardo's

Charity’s report into effects of technology on under-18s warns of threat to mental health.


Children aged five and under are at risk of becoming addicted to the internet in a trend that could damage their mental health, according to Barnardo’s.

The charity said very young children – one as young as two – were learning to access websites, for example YouTube and those related to children’s television programmes, as a result of their parents giving them access to smartphones or tablet computers to distract or entertain them.

Barnardo’s is concerned that early access to electronic devices could lead to both addiction and a loss of key social skills as families spend less time talking among themselves.

It warns in a report into the effects of technology and social media on children that platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter are having a “disturbing” impact on the mental health of under-18s.

The report’s findings were based on testimony from 80 support workers who work with under-18s at 30 Barnardo’s projects across the UK. Many of their clients are young people who are particularly vulnerable because they are or have been in care, in a gang, or under the supervision of a pupil referral unit.

The research also found that:

  • A third of five-to-10-year-olds have been the victims of cyberbullying.
  • Children of that age are being exposed to unsuitable or harmful material online.
  • 79% of support workers have dealt with 11-to-15-year-olds who have suffered cyberbullying.
  • 58% of those helping those 16 or over had seen cases of self-harm and attempted suicide linked to the young person’s history of cyberbullying.
  • 78% of support workers had come across young people of that age who had been groomed online.

In a white paper in April on combating online harm, the government pledged to take action to tackle the problem. That included putting a new legal duty of care on providers to ensure that young users do not come to harm from accessing their content.

However, the charity added that social media can also offer benefits, such as reducing vulnerable young people’s isolation and loneliness, and letting them link up with people like them.