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I am writing to you as a parent in your constituency, and one of the 80,000 members of the new national grassroots movement Smartphone Free Childhood.

Comprised of parents from a diverse range of backgrounds and professions, we have come together to create change for our children, and part of that is asking for your help. We want the Government to do much more to protect children from the dangers of unrestricted access to smartphones and social media, and to support parents and schools to reset to safer, healthier norms.

The problem
Smartphones expose children to inappropriate and extreme content. Being approached by sexual predators, seeing hardcore pornography, extreme violence, cyberbullying, self harm and anorexia content are all commonplace occurrences for young people today.

Smartphones are highly addictive. Tech companies spend billions on making apps and devices intentionally addictive, so it’s no wonder that according to an April 2024 Ofcom report, 'many children are spending six, seven, eight hours a day on social media – often more', instead of interacting in the real world.

Smartphone use has been directly linked to poor mental health and low self-esteem, especially in girls. And social media use in teens correlates directly to rates of anxiety and depression.

Research is emerging on the impact of smartphones on developing brains, suggesting smartphones reduce children's ability to concentrate; inside and outside of the classroom.

Despite the compelling evidence about their harms, 25% of 5-7 year-olds in the UK have a smartphone, and 95% of 12-15 year-olds do. These statistics are only going one way, with parents either unaware of the scale and likelihood of harm or fearful of cutting off their children's access to social interactions.

According to a nationwide survey by Parentkind in April 2024, 77% of parents of primary school aged children support a ban on social media until 16, yet the network effects of these platforms make it almost impossible for parents to set boundaries alone. It’s time for the government to act.

Proposed solutions
Smartphones have been with us for barely 15 years, and algorithm-driven social media apps for even less time. Regulation hasn’t caught up with the technology – and parents and children are suffering the consequences.

The new Online Safety Act is a start, but it does not go far enough. It is becoming clear that the major social media services will delay complying as long as they can, and even if they were to it still leaves 13-16 year-olds vulnerable to the above harms. The OSA goes some way to addressing the issue of harmful content, but this is only one aspect of this urgent and growing problem.

The only way to solve this escalating crisis is with clearer boundaries. Social media and smartphones are harmful to children and so they should not be on these platforms or be allowed unrestricted access to these devices. We are calling on this government and the next to:

1. Ensure the social media companies comply with UK law by removing the millions of under age accounts on their platforms. It’s simply unacceptable that these huge global companies are allowed to profit from violating UK law in this way.

2. Raise the minimum age restriction on social media platforms to 16. Until social media companies can prove their algorithm-driven apps are safe for children, children should not be on them. Many set their minimum age at 13 because that is the age they can monetise our children’s data. So they are profiting from our children, but not keeping them safe.

3. Ban smartphones from all primary and secondary schools. The current Government guidance does not go far enough as only 11% of UK schools have an effective ban (where smartphones are not accessible for any reason throughout the school day). Not only do these schools achieve significantly higher grades; teachers and pupils all report happier and more productive learning environments.

4. Mandate that children under 16 are not allowed unrestricted smartphones. The evidence is clear: children should not have unrestricted access to social media and the internet in their pockets. This can be achieved in a number of ways, and critically the onus for compliance must be on the tech companies, not parents.

The government is considering launching a consultation on some of the above measures. So I am urging you to:

First: push your leaders to ensure this consultation is opened as soon as possible and takes place with immediate effect

Second: press your party to include these measures in its election manifesto

Third: ask Ofcom to set out a clear timeline for enforcing the existing child safety requirements in the Online Safety Act

I feel strongly that we have already let down a generation of children by ignoring the harms they experience via their smartphones so it is now urgent that we have firm regulation in place that big tech cannot ignore, evade or water down. Our children’s futures depend on it.

I hope I can count on your support and I look forward to your response.

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