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Children and the Internet

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Shiv Malik, Melanie Philips, Matthew Taylor and Claire Fox.

Children as young as four are to be warned about the perils of social media - including sexting and cyber-bullying - as part of their relationship education. Announcing the plans, the Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "Today children have to learn to cope in two worlds, the virtual one and the real one." The constant comparison of social media, according to experts, has exacerbated teenage body image anxiety and the 'fear of missing out', while numerous studies reveal the addictive nature of online gaming. Surveys show children spending up to 10 hours a day in front of screens. We are only just beginning to understand some of the consequences, including - according to Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS - an "epidemic" of mental illness among children. Some blame parents for allowing unlimited and unsupervised access to smartphones and for not setting appropriate boundaries. Others believe that, since children often know far more about the technology than their parents, a duty of care should rest with the tech companies. There are deeper questions we must also confront as a society: what is all this doing to our children's emotional intelligence, to their character and to their morality? Some say being open to the endless benefits of the wider digital world broadens their moral horizons and outweighs the exposure to the harmful material it brings with it. Others believe the inevitable loss of face-to-face interaction in the real world has serious implications for their ability to navigate relationships, and to nurture a sense of commitment, compassion and empathy. What influence is the internet having on our children's moral development? How worried should we be? Witnesses this week are; Carolyn Bunting, Father Alexander Lucie-Smith, Professor Andy Przybylski and Camilla Turner.

Producer: Dan Tierney.

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43 minutes

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