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Five Years Old With Smartphones: Is the UK’s Future in Peril? 

A month ago, the UK’s communications regulator OFCOM reported that nearly 25% of children aged five to seven years old have smartphones. When I read this on the BBC I was shocked. I can only imagine how damaging having a smartphone, with access to social media, must be. 

The same article reported that five to seven year olds' social media usage increased from 30% in 2022 to 38% in 2023. Another article from the BBC on Online safety cited how children aged eight to seventeen spent between two to five hours online a day. It’s clear young people’s lives are becoming increasingly digitised with each passing year. 

Now, I believe this development is worrying. With children as young as five having smartphones, and children as young as eight having access to social media, I can only see that it brings children under threat. In fact, a committee of MPs has recently recommended that the next government consider implementing a ban on smartphones for under-16s within its first year in office. In addition to this, there is an Online Safety Act being piloted for 2025 that does prevent children from coming across damaging content such as child sexual abuse, controlling, coercive behaviour, and self harm. 

Despite this, many parents believe that smartphones are necessary because it’s an efficient means of keeping in contact with their children and they believe it is important for their child’s safety and security. Additionally, the excuse of “peer pressure” was brought up too - no one wants to feel left out. 

However, I don’t think these excuses and preventative measures are enough to justify or mitigate the lasting consequences of children having smartphones and being exposed to the internet - especially social media.

Firstly, the idea that smartphones make contact between people easier is a bit of a misnomer. Having a smartphone creates that illusion because it appears as though someone is one text or one call away from contact. But, how many times have we been in a situation where someone takes hours, days or even weeks to respond to a message of ours, or how many times have we been in a circumstance where our calls get ignored? I know from personal experience when I had my first smartphone at 13 that I took more liberties when it came to my curfews because I could always contact my mum to say that I had to stay out later or had the belief that one text could reduce the necessity to be at home at a particular time. And that’s not to mention that unfortunately many young people are generally closer to their friends, and worry more about acquaintances and co-workers than their own parents. Smartphones will only make parents feel their children are safer because in turn it makes them feel as though home is closer than it actually is. 

It could be argued that parents who believe smartphones are necessary display an inability to maintain sufficient discipline which could impact the quality of a child’s life in and out of the home. Children should feel home is their primary contact point and the place they feel most comfortable and most safe. Frankly, a child’s welfare and quality of life should be prioritised over a parent’s fear. 

The Online Safety Act coming in 2025 is a step in the right direction and will hopefully prevent kids from accessing extremely traumatising material. However, we cannot understate the harmful impact that social media has on adults, let alone children. 

The mental health crisis, which is particularly close to my heart and pertinent for my generation as a whole, has been catalysed by the popularisation of social media and digitisation of our day-to-day lives. The Guardian last year reported that a study revealed that Gen Zers are more likely to cite “negative feelings” about social media compared to other generations. The assumption here being that they are significantly over exposed to its negative consequences. 

Social media is a massive envy trap because it broadcasts people’s best moments, putting pressure on us to live exciting, successful lives at such young ages, as well as leaving us feeling inadequate as we compare our ordinary selves to others at their best. Social media leads many people to live vicariously through their idols in parasocial relationships. We’re more atomised than ever before.  

 Ironically, a platform that’s meant to connect people has made people more lonely than ever. Children being exposed to this at such a young age is detrimental as it will knocks their self-esteem and hampers their ability to connect with others. The lessening of social skills makes many of life’s milestones such as a happy relationship, starting a family, or landing that dream job more challenging, since they’re predicated on one’s ability to socialise and one’s level of self-confidence. 

From personal experience, I’ve seen how a dependence on social media has made connecting with others in real life more  difficult. It’s not helped by the fact that social media allows people to construct avatars of themselves in whatever fashion they choose, leading people to present a version of themselves which does not exist. Thus, young children having smartphones can lead to them having unrealistic expectations of people and relationships as they age, compromising their ability to lead a satisfactory life. 

For me, the news that there are 25% of children aged between 5-7 years old with smartphones is concerning. It’s a sign of decline and threatens the innocence of children who are exposed constantly to a damaging and cruel world on the internet. Children are the future, and if this development is anything to go by, then our future is looking rather bleak.

Image: Andi Graf

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