A child behaviour expert is calling for schools to ban smartphones for under-13s to promote greater mental health following the hoax Momo Challenge earlier this month.
Ross McWilliam, from Preston, has drawn on the hoax – a social media craze picturing a scary woman reportedly telling children to perform a dangerous tasks including self-harm – as part of research into the negative affects of social media on children.
His research from working in more than 1,500 educational institutions has found that one in four children and young adults have experienced consistent stress from a direct result of social media use. One in eight have also experienced a form of panic or anxiety.
Ross, a former teacher and Commercial Manager at Preston North End, said: “Even though the Momo Challenge was exposed as a hoax, the media coverage, the way it was spread on social media and the way some schools and parents dealt with it actually exposed many vulnerable children to something which had the potential to affect them greatly.
"Here we had a very scary image of a face and disturbing information coupled with the fact that children don’t always have the soft communications skills to talk to their parents about their fears and concerns.
“Many children were able to brush it off as a hoax and recognise it for what it was but many weren’t and we had reports of children having nightmares and being genuinely scared by the whole situation.”
In late February schools across Lancashire issues advice after the hoax game swept social media.
St Bernard’s Catholic Primary School in Preston shared police advice on its social media platforms.
A spokesman said at the time: “Some parents have contacted us with their concerns about this, and we feel it’s better to get information out about it than ignore it.”
As well as safety issues, Ross claims that unchecked social media use is creating a generation of children with stunted emotional development and the inability to communicate confidently face to face, with peers, and in particular with adults.
He said: “The earlier the access, the greater the potential for longer lasting damage. Pupils don’t have the skills or experience to deal with cyber bullying, image comparison and or detecting fake news.”
He added that some parents should shoulder the blame for their own use of social media and their growing reliance on smart phones.
Ross’ call to ban smartphones in schools for under-13s comes after the Michaela Community School, London, introduced ‘brick phones’ which only have basic functions to curb social media usage.