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07 February 2019 08:30

Ban children's smartphones from mealtimes and before bed, parents told

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The country's chief medical officer is backing a Duty of Care as she warns social media companies they must remove "addictive" technology or face new laws. Prof Dame Sally Davies spoke out as she issued the first official advice on screen time and social media - urging parents to ban smartphones from mealtimes and leave them outside of bedrooms at night. Prof Dame Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer and the lead for the UK, said the case was "tragic" and it was clear some children were being exposed to inappropriate content. She said companies had a duty of care to help keep children safe and that age limits for using social media needed to be properly enforced and children should not be channelled towards harmful content - one of the key concerns in the Molly Russell case. But Dame Sally said a review of evidence had not proven a clear link between screen-based activities and mental health problems.

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policing their own use too - parents should give their children proper attention and quality family time and never assume they are happy for pictures to be shared "We do not yet have enough evidence to draw a definite link between screen time and mental health problems - but it is clear that some of the content that young people are viewing online, such as pro-anorexia, suicide and self-harming content, can be incredibly harmful," she said. Parents should not allow children to take phones and other electronic devices into their bedrooms or use them during mealtimes, the UK's leading doctors have said. "Time spent online can be of great benefit to children and young people, providing opportunities for learning and skills development, as well as allowing young people to find support and information," said Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England. While the team said there was not enough evidence to issue guidelines on how much time children should spend online or using screens, there was evidence for broader aspects of children's use of technology, based on how it might upset known beneficial activities, including sleep. The guidelines come days after a report by the Commons science and technology select committee flagged a lack of high-quality research into the effects of screen time on young people, including studies that explored the impact of particular uses of screens.

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However, the officers said immediate action to safeguard young people is necessary by the government, social media platforms and technology companies. Advice to parents and carers on the use of screens and social media by children and young people has been issued by the UK's chief medical officers. Parents should banish phones from the bedroom at night and at the dinner table, according to the first guidelines on screen time and social media from senior medical advisors. While there have been studies linking excessive time on social media to increased mental health issues, it's not clear that using the technology is inherently harmful, the report said. Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said: "Time spent online can be of great benefit to children and young people, providing opportunities for learning and skills development, as well as allowing young people to find support and information.

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The chief medical officers have also called for technology companies to adopt an industry duty of care and a voluntary code of conduct, while waiting for the government to adopt tougher new laws.