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A recent study by Ofcom suggests that nearly a quarter of children aged five to seven in the UK now possess their own smartphones, indicating a significant rise in technology adoption among

young children. This revelation comes alongside a surge in social media engagement within this age group, with almost two in five children using messaging platforms like WhatsApp, despite the platform's minimum age requirement of 13.

The regulatory body expressed concern over the apparent decline in parental enforcement of rules regarding children's online activities, emphasizing the urgent need for both parents and the industry to prioritize child safety in the digital realm.

According to Ofcom's annual analysis of children's media habits, the percentage of five to seven-year-olds using messaging services increased from 59% to 65%, while social media usage rose from 30% to 38%. Additionally, livestreaming and online gaming witnessed notable upticks, with percentages climbing from 39% to 50% and from 34% to over 40%, respectively, compared to the previous year.

Despite age restrictions imposed by most major social media platforms, over half of children under 13 are reported to be active on these platforms, often resorting to dishonest means to access them. Mark Bunting, representing Ofcom's Online Safety Group, underscored the legal obligation of companies to implement measures ensuring children's safety online, urging the industry to prioritize user safety over adherence to terms and conditions.

The data has reignited calls from advocacy groups for the establishment of age limits for smartphone usage and the revision of existing age requirements for social media access. However, it's worth noting that most children's smartphones are provided by parents, as individuals under 18 cannot enter into contracts, and major service providers refrain from selling pay-as-you-go phones to those under 16.

Parents interviewed by the BBC highlighted challenges such as peer pressure and the necessity of staying connected with their children as reasons for providing smartphones. Yet, they also expressed struggles in monitoring and regulating their children's online activities effectively.

Notably, Heather Bryson, an 11-year-old known for her online exercise videos, has been using a smartphone since the age of eight. While acknowledging the benefits of online interaction, her parents emphasize stringent supervision of her digital interactions.

Despite growing concerns and calls for stricter regulations, some argue against limiting children's access to technology, advocating instead for a more balanced approach that ensures child rights are upheld while leveraging the educational potential of digital tools. Ofcom plans to engage with tech firms to establish safer online environments for children and explore the use of AI to combat harmful content. Photo by Andi Graf, Wikimedia commons.