Government responds to Science and Tech Committee report on social media impact

The RCPCH welcomes the Government's commitment to protect children online but, to inform future policy and public advice, says it must go further to ensure researchers have access to high quality data.

The Government has today responded to the Science and Technology Committee’s report into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health.

Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Improvement for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

Children and young people are the test pilots when it comes to navigating their way through the digital landscape, with today’s parents and carers trying to guide them through safely.

There are many pros and cons to social media, and we as paediatricians welcome the Government’s commitment to help protect children and young people from online dangers such as grooming, cyber bullying and sexting. We are particularly pleased with the proposed regulatory framework and duty of care that will require companies to take necessary steps in protecting all users from these types of harm. We are also pleased to see children and young people themselves being made aware of harms through compulsory Relationships Education in primary school and Relationships and Sex Education in Secondary school. However, in other areas, the Government’s response doesn’t quite go far enough.

There is very little high quality research available on the impact digital media has on the health and wellbeing of children and young people. As a College, we support the very sensible recommendations made by the Committee in relation to this, and whilst the Government has acknowledged the issue, we feel it must go further.

Firstly, there are no clear timescales as to when the regulator will be in post, as recommended in the Science and Technology Committee’s report. Secondly, data release should not be a voluntary or an ad hoc action. As researchers and doctors, we are increasingly being called upon to support or advise parents and patients to navigate screen use. We can only do this with high quality research. Therefore the Government must ensure all social media companies – with appropriate safeguards - release their data for research purposes.

Parents and professionals should look to the College's screen time guidance for advice on screen use in childhood and adolescence.