Sue from Safe In Your Hands talks us through the impact of children using social media in today’s world…

There is no getting away from the fact that children use social media.  We cannot stop them from doing this and it brings with it some wonderful benefits.  The world at our finger tips and we can share with our friends almost immediately what matters to us.  It has the power to motivate people and it allows young people to have a platform to have a voice and to explore new concepts.

Unfortunately there is a flip side to this great resource; young people’s emotional and mental health are potentially being affected by this explosion of social media. 

Over the past few years this idea has been the focus for many psychologists and they have consistently found that the heavy use of social media is associated with poorer mental health.

This research has concluded that there are generally 3 main factors that can negatively impact the mental health of young people:

The impact on sleep:

It has been shown in several psychological studies that sleep difficulties have been linked to screen time.  Sleep is fundamentally important for young people and the development of their adolescent brain. It is not yet known if it is the blue light that affects the sleep quality or quantity or the behaviour pull that makes young people wake to check on their phones, however lack of sleep has been linked to lower mood and depression.

The life comparison tool:

One of the benefits to social media is to be able to communicate and reach out to everyone from all over the world! Unfortunately as time has gone on, social media has now become more about comparing yourself to others and a gauge of how we measure up to others around us. We look at other people’s pictures and lives and compare these to our own, which can be dangerous and harmful to our mental health.  

Social media is a tool to inform people of the highlights that are happening in our lives and we post these (rather than the boring parts of our lives) and they are then seen as the norm.  We generally post things when we are on a high and trawl through other people’s post when we are feeling low. This only further strengthens our perception of how exciting other people’s lives are, or what we perceive to be their lives and leads us feeling like we can’t measure up or that we are missing out in some way.  This can make us feel inferior and inadequate and can massively impact on our mental health.

The need for likes to boost self-worth or self-esteem:

We are a nation of ‘selfie’ takers and what makes us feel really great is when someone likes the picture we have taken! Unfortunately young people will post hundreds of pictures in order for people to validate them.  This is not allowing them to develop a secure sense of self that is not dependent on other people’s ideas of what they should look like.

Being too active on social media, posting numerous pictures or status updates and then worrying about what other people think have been linked to anxiety, poor body image and poor mental health.  All of this fixation with how other people react to their posts can lead young people to feel unsure about their value in life. They may start to worry about their physical appearance or about their lives in general.  

We also need to highlight here, that the more pictures we post online the more we are opening the doors up to more negative or detrimental comments. People are very quick at saying mean and hurtful things to someone especially if they are hiding behind a username. Young people could be more at risk to cyberbullying which has been linked to depression and even suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

The secretary of state for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock has recently issued a warning on the potential dangers of social media and children’s mental health. Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, is reviewing the impact that excessive social media can have on children’s mental health and drawing up guidelines with the interim findings published in Dec 2018.

In the meantime there are things that you can do as parents:

Discuss with your children the importance of using social media in a healthy way.  About how important it is or not to seek approval from people online that don’t really know them and about the need to compare their lives to the edited, superficial versions of lives they see online.  They also need to understand how it can potentially impact their sleep and to encourage a culture where you all switch off devices at night.

Finally I think that sometimes children need to be reminded that social media is not the only way in which we can be sociable and interact with people, that there is a real world out there where they can get face to face interaction with real people!!

Sue delivers safeguarding workshops for adults and children in the local area and beyond, check out her website for more information.