Time spent online and mobile phone ownership have increased among children during lockdown as many search for new ways to communicate and be entertained, new research suggests.
The 2021 Childwise Monitor Report found that TikTok is now the social media platform of choice among under-16s, while 73% now have a mobile phone, including half of those aged from 5-10.
The research comes as concerns continue over the impact lockdown is having on the mental health of young people, not just through school closures and reduced social contact, but also through increased exposure to harmful content online as they spend more time on their devices.
According to the report, the average time spent online each day has risen from 3.4 hours last year, to 3.8 hours now.
Childwise’s research suggests that many young people have turned to platforms such as TikTok in order to find a new sense of community, and it also reports an increase in online social gaming.
Simon Leggett, research director at Childwise suggested dance crazes and other popular video formats on TikTok were helping many young people with increased isolation.
“Children are spending more of their free time online and TikTok has been really important for kids this year as use of the app surged under lockdown,” he said.
“TikTok offers a sense of togetherness with everybody learning the same choreography and posting the exact same dance moves. This can make children feel part of a community, joining millions around the world doing the same dance.”
However, others have warned of the increased dangers of more screen time, urging parents to engage with their children on the positives and negatives of the online world.
Iryna Pona, policy manager at The Children’s Society, also called on the Government and social media platforms to continue working to improve online safety for young people.
“We are pleased children are using the internet and gaming to stay in contact with their friends, which will help them feel more connected and reduce the risk of them feeling isolated and lonely,” she said.
“However, we also know the number of cases of online child abuse has increased during lockdown. Sadly, criminals have adapted their methods and are using games with chat rooms and social media to groom and exploit children who are spending more time online.
“The online world can seem daunting for parents and carers but there are some good resources online to support them in helping to keep their children safe. Children’s safety online is not just a matter for families – it is everyone’s responsibility, including online platforms, the police, Government and schools.
“It is therefore vital the Government’s planned online harms legislation is put in place as quickly as possible to protect children online. No child should have to face the horrific ordeal of sexual abuse or exploitation.”