British researchers believe too much time online could be causing mental illnesses and social problems for children.
Loneliness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and heightened aggression are some of the issues faced by children who overuse the internet, according to Public Health England (PHE).
A report by the government agency has found a link between the time spent on social media sites and “lower levels of well-being”, the Daily Mail reported on Friday.
The newspaper said the association is striking when children spend more than four hours a day in front of a screen – but kicks in even at very low levels of use.
A PHE report says improvements in children’s wellbeing over the past two decades has been “curtailed and may be in reverse”.
One in 10 children now has a mental health issue, and a third of teenagers feel “low, sad or down” at least once a week.
The report says the number of calls to ChildLine about online bullying, suicidal thoughts and self-harm have soared in recent years.
Parents should be particularly worried about their child’s mental health if they spend more than four hours a day in front of a screen.
“Children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression.
“This relationship is particularly negative among those who engage in high levels of screen use – more than four hours a day.
“The evidence suggests a ‘dose-response’ relationship, where each additional hour of viewing increases children’s likelihood of experiencing socio-economic problems, and the risk of lower self-esteem,” the report said.
It added: “Increased screen time and exposure to media is associated with reduced feelings of social acceptance, and increased feelings of loneliness, contact problems and aggression.
“Certain internet activity (social network sites, multi-player online games) have been associated with lower levels of wellbeing.”