Unlimited screen time can be very harmful to children, and in 2021, parents ranked it as one of the most detrimental effects of the pandemic. As teen screen usage more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, most adolescents report feeling addicted to their phones, and nearly 75% of them feel the need to immediately check notifications or respond to messages. Overall, since the pandemic, 63% of parents say that their teens’ social media use has increased.
Because of this increase in internet usage, the likelihood of minors accessing harmful content is much higher. Studies show that 7 in 10 children have accidentally accessed harmful content online, and that nearly half of teens today will experience some form of mental health disorder in their lifetime. Persistent use of social media can have a negative effect on mental health, and 1 in 6 teens have experienced cyberbullying. In addition to mental health effects, accidental exposure to inappropriate content online is common, and reports state that on average, children are first exposed to pornography at age 11. This early exposure can have long term consequences, specifically the normalization of unsafe sexual behaviors. Studies show that 1 in 7 children between ages 9 and 12 have shared a nude photo of themselves, and 62% of teens and young adults have sent or received a nude image.
These types of behaviors open the door for harmful content such as child pornography, and 84% of parents say they are worried about their child’s safety online. There are several avenues by which this type of accidental exposure may occur, 40% of which happens through an innocent search phrase. Other methods include video games, virtual chat rooms, pop up ads, hackers with malicious intent, misleading links, and extensive video sharing platforms. Fortunately, due to the increase in internet usage by a large range of age groups, protecting children from harmful content has become much easier. Experts recommend setting ground rules, establishing good habits, and enabling parental controls to start the conversation about internet safety and risks with children. Nearly 1 in 5 parents do not bother with parental controls, but with new technology total safety online is possible and accessible.