According to Barnardo’s, Britain is ‘sleepwalking’ into a mental health crisis among children because parents are allowing their toddlers on social media from the age of two, 11 years before they should be.
It was highlighted within the report that parents were using phones and iPads with vulnerable children to “keep them quiet”.
The charity’s frontline staff revealed that 60 per cent of their cases of under-five-year-olds were regularly on social media platforms such as YouTube.
“The children are parented via iPads and phones as it keeps them quiet,” said one frontline worker.
“They have very limited social skills and are addicted to iPads resulting in the child having a meltdown and the parents believing the child has autism or learning needs when in fact it is lack of parental interaction.”
Barnardo’s report urges the Government to commission detailed research into the potential links between social media and mental ill health, and greater investment in education about social media for both children and parents.
It points out that one in eighteen two to four-year-olds have a mental health disorder and one in eight five to 19-year-olds, this is equivalent to three children in every classroom.
Yet, the analysis showed health authorities are spending an average of just six per cent of their mental health budget on children, despite children making up around 20 per cent of the population.
It says the Government’s proposed mental health strategy “does not address how its proposals will focus specifically on the impact of social media on mental health.”
A third of the staff reported that children were being cyberbullied on social media from the age of five to ten.
Nearly eight in ten (79 per cent) frontline staff said they had worked with children who had self-harmed or attempted suicide because of cyberbullying.
Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, said: “It’s vital that the next Prime Minister quickly turns these proposals into changes in the law – and focuses specifically on protecting the most vulnerable. It would be a tragedy if this work doesn’t get done.”