Dad and mom really feel powerless over youngsters’s social media use

The government should make social media firms enforce age limits to help tackle their impact on children’s mental health, actress Kate Winslet has said.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, she said parents feel “utterly powerless” about how to help their children navigate social media.

Winslet said security checks could be more rigorous and those in power “should step up” to protect children.

She was speaking ahead of the launch of her new Channel 4 film I Am Ruth.

The feature-length drama sees Winslet playing opposite her real-life daughter Mia Threapleton as the mother of a teenager whose mental health begins to suffer as she becomes increasingly consumed by the pressures of social media.

Winslet said the decision to focus on children’s mental health followed a conversation with the film’s creator Dominic Savage about how parents can help “when they can clearly see there’s a problem”.

But she said that the drama had to be about more than a child obsessed with their phone.

It had to cover “what’s actually going on with that phone, how it impacts on their self-esteem, how it impacts on eating habits, their mental state in terms of thinking about things like self-harm,” Winslet said.

In the two-hour drama, to be shown on Channel 4 on Thursday 8 December, Winslet plays Ruth who is a single mother of two, including 17-year-old Freya.

The film shows Freya becoming less communicative and falling behind at school as she retreats further into herself as her relationship with social media becomes increasingly destructive.

The world of social media is “frightening to parents because we don’t really know what’s there,” Winslet said.

“We don’t really know what’s going on in their friendship groups anymore because so much of it is actually built on phones, inside phones.

“This world that you can burrow deeper and deeper into it, and it becomes darker and trickier and much, much harder for children to navigate.

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“I think because people, young children, are having phones at a much earlier age, they’re able to access things that emotionally they’re just not equipped or sophisticated enough to know how to process.”

Asked whether she thought there should be more legal regulation of social media, Winslet said she struggled with social media and its impact on teenage mental health.

“I do wish that our government would crack down on it. I do wish that there would be certain platforms that were banned before a certain age. I wish that security checks would be much more rigorous,” she said.

She said there should be “more protection and accountability” because parents “are left flailing”.

“I just think that the people who know that they could do better to protect our children should just be doing that. Whoever those people are, they know who they are, they should just step up and do better,” she said.

Winslet’s comment come as the government is accused of watering down legislation aimed at regulating internet content.

In the past week, ministers have dropped plans from the Online Safety Bill which would require technology firms to take down legal but harmful material.

Ian Russell, the father of teenager Molly Russell, who ended her life after viewing suicide and self-harm content online, said the bill had been watered down and the decision might have been made for political reasons to help it pass more quickly.

In a statement, Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan told BBC News that “unregulated social media is hurting our children and it must end”.

She added that the “strengthened Online Safety Bill” she is bringing back to Parliament “will allow parents to see and act on the dangers sites pose to young people”.

“Young people will be safeguarded, criminality stamped out and adults given control over what they see and engage with online,” Ms Donelan said.

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  • See Laura Kuenssberg’s interview with Kate Winslet in full this Sunday, 4 December

  • Also on the show is cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi and Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson

  • Watch Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on BBC One and on BBC iPlayer from 09:00 GMT

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