Britain’s Minister for Culture said on Saturday that the government is looking at imposing a legal limit on the time children spend on the Internet.
It follows a report by the country’s Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, showing that 12 to 15 year olds spend more than 20 hours a week online.
Teens aged under 18 face being cut-off from social media sites after a few hours of browsing under proposals being drawn up to tame the “wild west” of the Internet, The Times newspaper in London reported Saturday.
Ministers are looking at imposing a limit on time spent by children on social media platforms amid concerns that overuse damages mental health.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, told The Times he wants varying time cut-offs for different ages on sites over concern that overuse of the internet by children can damage their mental health.
Hancock told the newspaper: “There is a genuine concern about the amount of screen time young people are clocking up and the negative impact it could have on their lives. It is right that we think about what more we could do in this area.”
Time limits would be enforced using a new legal requirement for social media companies to ensure that anyone setting up profiles is aged above 13. Details of how such a scheme might work are yet to be developed but they are likely to extend a law requiring pornographic websites to ensure that users are over 18, by means of a credit card, says the report.
In her report Longfield says a third of Britain’s Internet users are aged under 18, while a separate report claims 75 percent of children aged 10 to 12 have social media accounts.
The moves come just weeks after Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, warned that excessive social media use posed as big a threat to children’s health as smoking or obesity.
Hunt said he wanted to ensure children accessed only age-appropriate material online, with government ministers likely to place responsibility for implementing age checks on Internet site companies. Hunt warned that if an age verification scheme is not robust the government may legislate further.
The Times comments that some will see Hancock’s proposal as heavy handed, adding the minister wanted to start a debate over the extent to which the state should regulate activity on the Internet.