Children as young as 11 are so addicted to social media that they log on after midnight every night, research has found.
MPs and leading charities warned that almost two thirds of young people had fallen victim to cyber bullying but admitted they would not tell their parents if they experienced something upsetting online.
Their report accused social media platforms of failing to effectively tackle cyber-bullying and offering only a “tokenistic” response to the problem, placing children’s mental health at risk.
It called on the Government to include online safety lessons in the school curriculum and force social media companies to report data on cyberbullying.
The report, based on the findings of an inquiry that included a poll of more than 1,000 young people aged 11 – 25 and an evidence session, said cyber-bullying was “inescapable” and took a number of forms including mass “unfollowings,” the sharing of embarrassing photos and threatening, intimidating or nasty messages.
A 15-year-old-girl said: “You kind of expect to experience it: nasty comments on the selfie, Facebook posts and Twitter posts, people screen-grabbing your Snapchat story to laugh about it … I feel like it’s something people don’t take seriously.”
The report, called Safety Net, highlighted how children and young people use social media for hours every day.
Alex Chalk, the Conservative MP who led the inquiry alongside charities The Children’s Society and YoungMinds, said: “Cyber-bullying can devastate young lives, but to date the response from social media companies has been tokenistic and inadequate.
“It has failed to grip the true scale of the problem. For too long they have been marking their own homework and it’s time they become far more transparent, robust and accountable.”
The report found that three in five young people had their first social media account aged 12 or under, more than a third believe social media has a negative impact on how they feel about themselves and many described feeling inadequate if they did not have enough likes or followers.
One in ten admitted logging on after midnight every night.
It said social media companies should be faster to respond to reports of bullying and take tougher action against those who break platform guidelines.
There has been mounting criticism over social media sites’ approach to children.
In December, it emerged that the Government had agreed to legislate for a code of practice setting out minimum standards for the “age-appropriate design” of websites, with companies failing to abide by the rules facing the possibility of large fines.
In evidence to the inquiry, Snapchat, Facebook, Google and YouTube insisted that they had measures in place to remove any content that violated their guidelines.
Meanwhile, the Duchess of Cornwall has urged parents to read to their children to escape a world “dominated by screens”.
She described how her own father had read to her every night and in doing so, instilled in her a life-long love of books.
The Duchess, writing in the Sunday Express to mark World Book Day on March 1, said reading sparked the imagination, leading children on a “voyage of discovery” whilst also helping them understand the world and its people.