British teenagers spend more time on the internet than virtually anyone else in the world, leading them to become more unhappy and susceptible to mental health problems, a new report has found.
Nearly one in four pupils in the UK are now considered “extreme” internet users, with tens of thousands spending three times longer online than the average dwell-time of children living in the rest of the developed world.
Only Chilean youngsters spend longer browsing the web, with British youngsters spending 188 minutes per school day engrossed on their smartphones or computers.
The study - based on the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests, which surveyed 540,000 pupils aged 15 from around the world - also found that British teenagers rank in the bottom ten for life satisfaction.
Unhappiness is more pronounced among girls, with just 28 per cent stating that they feel “very satisfied” with their lives, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to feel alienated and unable to progress into higher education.
According to researchers, girls suffer higher levels of bullying, are more likely to worry about their exams, and become more “nervous” than male peers when they are unable to solve tasks in class.
Of the British pupils surveyed, nearly one in five said they were turning to the internet because they had been subject to “nasty rumours” or had been “made fun of” by classmates, leaving them feeling lonely and isolated.
The findings follow Prince Harry’s moving interview in The Daily Telegraph earlier this week, in which the Prince revealed how he had struggled with his own mental health demons following the death of his mother, the late Princess Diana.
The disclosure was widely praised by MPs and health campaigners, with Theresa May hailing his intervention amid Government plans to station an NHS professional in every secondary school in a bid to tackle the issue.
However, the report claims that the UK is now lagging behind other developed countries in tackling issues surrounding emotional well-being, with schoolchildren’s happiness falling well below that of the US, Germany and France.
It adds that students that spend prolonged periods browsing social media and the internet are more likely to be bullied and feel isolated at school compared to their peers, and that behaviours associated with excessive internet time are exacerbating the problem.
This, researchers claim, coincides with a rise in “frequent bullying” - with Britain’s schoolchildren suffering the fourth highest rate of abuse among the countries surveyed.
A quarter of British pupils reported being bullied at least a “few times a month”, while 14 per cent said they were bullied often - nearly double the average globally.
With students turning to the internet as a “coping mechanism”, researchers claim that teenagers are at a heightened risk of suffering from sleeping disorders, obesity, stunted academic attainment, depression and an inability to develop real-life relationship.
Emily Frith, director of mental health at the Education Policy Institute, said the findings showed that the internet has “exacerbated” the woes and anxieties of British children, adding that the Government must prioritise the provision of welfare in schools.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the Government was working to provide all pupils with an “excellent education”, adding that reforms to the system would put an end to “the endless treadmill of exams”.
“We are working with schools and parents to help improve young people's resilience, boost their confidence and tackle bullying by investing £4.4m in funding for anti-bullying projects,” they added.
“Improving mental health starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve.”