CYBER-BULLYING and lack of sleep have a bigger impact on children’s mental health than social media use, a study has found.

Researchers found a significant link between children who checked their social media accounts more than three times a day and later feelings of psychological distress.

But they believe this is not directly as a result of social media use, but due to being exposed to cyber-bullying, not sleeping enough and screen use eating into time that could otherwise be spent exercising.

The authors said parents should worry less about how long children were spending on their phones and more about ensuring they get enough sleep and physical activity.

They should also monitor who their child is speaking to online in the same way that they would be aware of who their friends are in the playground.

Dr Dasha Nicholls, co-author of the study, said: “Rather than endlessly saying ‘can you get off your phone, can you get off your phone?’, what it’s saying (is) you need to leave your phone downstairs when you go to bed, you need to make sure that you go out and get some exercise and then you can play on your whatever it is, and to ask questions about whether anything negative has happened online and make sure that parents do what they can do to protect from cyber-bullying.”

The researchers analysed data on almost 10,000 school children as they progressed from age 13 to 16 during 2013-2016.

The researchers found those who checked social media at this frequency in the first year were 31% more likely to experience psychological distress the following year.

But the study authors believe social media itself is unlikely to be directly harmful; rather it is due to the content consumed or displacement of physical activity.