Using social media is amongst the most common online activities of the modern day young person. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many more all contribute to the billions of hours collectively spent via computers and mobile devices, with online gaming quickly following on the heels of the more popular social media portals.
Any site or portal where some form of social interaction occurs can be classed as social media, so even if you don’t allow your children access to Facebook et al, there’s still a chance they’re in contact via gaming or an app of some description: YouTube, blogs and so on.
Reports from the American Academy of Paediatrics has found that using social media does provide benefits for young people. According to findings, regular use of social media platforms enhances communication, social connections and technical skills. Not only that, it allows young people to connect with extended family members and friends they won’t see for perhaps years at a time, as they live in places they’re not likely to visit. Depending on the content, social media can help a young person develop better perspectives on various issues in the media and when talked about with an adult, they can begin to form their own opinions, an impressive stage in a young person’s life.
In some ways social media can help a young person express their inner feelings and encourages freedom of thought and engagement with similar age people. There’s potential for a young person to learn new things, whether that’s simple life hacks or discovering someone’s job role. All in all, it adds up, on paper at least, to a positive experience that can greatly help a young person grow and help them form a more mature understanding of the world around them; something we didn’t have before the Internet.
Sadly, with every positive aspect there are several negatives. Whilst the effects of social media on a child can be for good, they are mostly overshadowed by the popular negative aspects that ultimately rise to the surface. The sheer vastness of social media is one of the main causes for such negativity. Due to its freedom and limitless potential, there’s no definable control on the scope of information. Yes, the social media platform can apply rules, filters and restrictions but these seem to be far too easily bypassed, and to some degree worthless in the end.
Cyber bullying is rife on social media. From threats made to young people, to digs at their appearance and body shaming, it’s a platform that has quickly devolved into a pit of despair and depression for some unfortunate youngsters. This can lead, in extreme cases, to fatal consequences but generally the collective term for the negativity plied upon the youth of today is ‘Facebook Depression’.
In recent months, the Royal Society for Public Health together with the Young Health Movement released a survey that revealed Instagram to have the negative impact on a young person’s mental wellbeing, accusing the media platform of deepening young people’s feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. It’s a disturbing fact that on top of the pressures of school or college life, young people are having to put themselves through the mill whilst simply sitting in front of a screen.
Mental health is a major concern amongst young people but social media also presents its darker side through online grooming, potential radicalisation and the spread of malware. Each of these will greatly affect a young person and can lead to higher levels of anxiety, depression and withdrawal. For example, the spread of malware may not sound too negative on the wellbeing of a young person but put yourself in the place of the child who has unwittingly executed some form of malware on the family computer or the school network. The negative emotional effects from this happening can be huge to someone whose immaturity can’t deal with the aftereffects.
The safety side of social media and children comes in many forms then. Mental health concerns, access to inappropriate content, Internet borne digital threats, bullying, grooming, loneliness and body image. Where it’s easy to point out the risks of Internet stranger danger, it’s not always easy to cover what happens should someone post edited and manipulated images of a young person to social media.
Therefore, the pressure on parents and guardians is just as immense, when helping our young people navigate the digital wild west frontier that is social media.