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Two-thirds of Britons want ban on smartphones for under-16s

Polling comes at a time of increased concern about how smartphones are affecting young people
Polling comes at a time of increased concern about how smartphones are affecting young people - FIORDALISO

Nearly two-thirds of the public support a ban on selling smartphones to under-16s, polling has found.

The survey results were hailed by one Conservative MP as a sign that the UK was at a “tipping point” in which the public had realised that smartphones have “transformed childhood” for the “worse”.

More in Common polled 2,050 adults in Great Britain earlier this month on their attitudes to smartphones.

Asked whether the introduction of smartphones and social media apps had been a good or bad thing for young people, 67 per cent thought they had been bad and only 20 per cent said they had been good.

Sixty-four per cent of people thought that a ban on selling smartphones to under-16s would be a good idea, compared to 20 per cent who said it was a bad idea.

Such a ban was supported by a majority of people across the political spectrum.

Seventy-two per cent of people who voted Conservative in 2019 backed a ban, along with 61 per cent of Labour voters, 56 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters and 51 per cent who voted Green.

Sixty-eight per cent of respondents thought that young people should be at least over 14 before it is appropriate to get a smartphone, with 38 per cent thinking they should be over 16.

And 71 per cent said they would support safety software being automatically installed on children’s phones which would alert parents if they searched for dangerous or inappropriate content.

Esther Ghey
Esther Ghey says her murdered daughter Brianna would ‘without a doubt’ still be alive if greater smartphone safeguards had been in place - PAUL GROVER FOR THE TELEGRAPH

The polling comes at a time of increased concern about how smartphones are affecting young people.

The mother of the murdered transgender teenager Brianna Ghey said earlier this month that her daughter would “without a doubt” still be alive if greater smartphone safeguards had been in place.

Esther Ghey’s daughter was killed by two teenagers, including one, Scarlett Jenkinson, who had previously watched videos involving murder and torture online.

Ms Ghey told the BBC earlier this month: “We’d like a law introduced so that there are mobile phones that are only suitable for under-16s.”

“So if you’re over 16 you can have an adult phone, but then under the age of 16, you can have a children’s phone, which will not have all of the social media apps that are out there now.”

Ms Ghey also called for software which would “flag up” on parents’ phones if they children were searching for concerning key words.

In a separate development, parents have launched a grassroots campaign, Smartphone Free Childhood, to demand greater regulation of the devices.

Sea change in attitudes

Miriam Cates, the Tory MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said the polling showed there had been a sea change in attitudes.

Last month, she used a question during Prime Minister’s Questions to call for a ban on social media and smartphones for under-16s.

Ms Cates told The Telegraph: “We seem to be getting to a tipping point where we’re waking up to the fact that these things have actually transformed childhood, for the worse, and we’ve got to do something about it.”

“Smartphones aren’t safe for kids. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny the harms that are being done.”

Ms Cates said it might be possible to amend the Online Safety Act to raise the age requirement for social media accounts from 13 to 16.

But with time running out to legislate before the election, she said the main prize was to get “a social media ban and potentially a smartphone ban for under-16s in both major parties’ manifestos”.

“There is huge opposition obviously from the tech companies but also from I would say libertarians, who seem to say this should be down to parents and why can’t we just learn to use the internet safely.”

Luke Tryl, More in Common’s UK director, said: “Recent guidance on banning mobile phones in schools was an important first step in stopping phones disrupting children’s education but as our polling shows the public think smart phones are having an unambiguously negative impact beyond the classroom.”

He added: “The message couldn’t be clearer, politicians and phone companies must act.”