Is social media a threat to your child’s wellbeing?
Young people increasingly seek out and maintain social connections onscreen instead of in person
Is your tween a lurker or a socialiser on social media? Girl or boy? The answers will give a clue about how much influence social media could have on their lives.
Girls of 10 who chat on social media websites are at risk of declining wellbeing when they hit adolescence but not boys who do the same, a new study finds.
The researchers suggested that the more time girls spent online, the greater the potential harm to their wellbeing.
The results were based on a household survey of 10,000 girls and boys aged 10 to 15 in the UK from 2009 to 2015.At age 13, about half of the girls and about a third of the boys were active on social media for more than one hour on a typical school day.
Some 59% of girls and 46% of boys reported being on social media for more than an hour a day in the study by the University of Essex and University College London.
Adolescents are the biggest users of social media in the UK.
Cara Booker, the corresponding author, said: “Our findings suggest that it is important to monitor early interactions with social media, particularly in girls, as this could have an impact on wellbeing later in adolescence and perhaps throughout adulthood.”
But the impact of social media is also related to the type of use, the authors said in the journal BMC Public Health.
“Some studies suggest that interacting on social media might reduce social isolation; however, there are others which have come to opposite conclusions.”Passive users who consume and monitor content are more likely to experience harm than active users, who may feel more connected by being in touch online with people they know.
In her thesis exploring students’ relationships with their cellphones and their social participation online and offline, South African psychology student Jessica Oosthuizen confirmed that social media experiences differ.
“Some studies have shown that the use of social media itself does not cause feelings of wellbeing or automatically influence psychosocial development. Rather, it is the reactions which youth experience within these social media platforms,” she said.
For many adolescents, their cellphones – the main device through which they access social media – are like close companions, she said.In these instances, young people increasingly seek out and maintain social connections onscreen instead of in person.
Happiness scores, based on questions about family and school, and a questionnaire measuring emotional and behavioural problems were used in the British study to measure wellbeing – which went down in adolescence for boys and girls.
Booker said other factors besides social media could lead to a decline in boys’ wellbeing, such as the amount of time spent gaming.
The link between social media and declining wellbeing may have been underestimated because the study relied on self-reported data only on school days, the authors warned.
Prominent UK child psychiatrist Mike Shooter has encouraged parents to set boundaries around social media.
“Quite a lot of the kids with horrendous anxiety and self-harm are paralysed. They don’t know whether to say anything or not, and the answer for parents is always to do something: talk about it, learn about it, look at what your kid does,” he advised. “If necessary, take the equipment away, but show you’re doing it because you care.”