The advent of mobile phones and more recently smart phones has meant that connection to web based social media is no longer confined to “the computer”, but can be accessed whenever a mobile signal is available. Those who grew up without access to online social media have adapted it into their social interactions, but for today’s children social media has always been there.

Recent research in Australia which can be read here found that almost 80% of 8-9 year old children and over 90% of 11-12 year olds had used social networking services (SNS). While many of these were designed specifically for children, the difficulties of policing age verification online means that many kids’ sign up for “adult” SNS before they should. So, what are the problems with children using adult social media?

What the research shows

New research from the UK, available here, shows that most children using social media don’t show any ill effects in their behaviour, but the main issue appears to be how much time they spend online. While playing games was the most common online activity for Australian children aged 8-11 years, once they hit 12, kids start looking for other activities. For 12-17 year olds in Australia, the most popular online site was Facebook, followed by YouTube which features videos as well as an active comment section, then Skype (an online video call service) and the Windows Live Messenger service.

Clearly, kids want to communicate with each other as they mature, but how much is too much? The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) tweeted the following finding:

The graphic shows that children who reported more than 3 hours a day of social media were more than twice as likely to exhibit mental-ill health than kids who used SNS for less time per day.

Pros and cons associated with social media

This correlation may be related in part to other indicators of mental ill-health in children. Online interaction with other children, and even adults, as well as exposure to various forms of content other than text based discussion, exposes them to potentially harmful situations. While the majority of studies have shown that online socialising is generally a good thing, children who have issues about their appearance or are victims of bullying have much higher incidences of mental ill-health, and both of these factors can be experienced through online activity.

The children were measured under 5 difference categories:

  1. Emotional symptoms
  2. Conduct problems
  3. Hyperactivity or inattention
  4. Peer relationship problems
  5. Pro-social behaviour

Related: 8 Life altering lessons to teach kids about money

The researchers allowed the children to self-assess using questionnaires, adding up their scores to give a number. The higher the number, the increasingly poor the child’s mental health was claimed to be. You can download version of the questionnaire here.

Common mental issues to be aware of

Social media use can be harmful to adults as well as children, here’s a few of the more common ways how this can occur:

  1. Social media addiction: It’s easy to become consumed by ‘liking’ and commenting, gaining instant gratification from only a few taps of a screen.
  2. Life comparison: People generally post the best bits of their lives, so we can get a skewed view of how peachy other people’s day-to-day is. If you’re currently fed images of others having a good time, it’s not surprising your mood could drop if you’re not doing quite as well.
  3. Social restlessness: The need to be up to date can leave the user feeling restless.
  4. Cyberbullying: It’s easy to bully people when hiding behind a screen, and it’s also easy to feel very alone if on the receiving end. According to statistics from the Queensland Government, 14% of year 6 to year 12 children reported being a victim of cyberbullying in one year.
  5. Positive substance messaging: Young people can be exposed to images of substances such as drugs and alcohol, which can make them more likely to become regular consumers.
  6. Fear of missing out: This is a recent phenomenon linked to social media where people become worried they are missing out on fun activities, or that their friends are having more fun without them. 50% of teens report experiencing FoMO according to the Stress and Wellbeing in Australia survey 2015.
  7. Poor multitasking: Having a chat window open on your screen can consistently direct your attention away from other tasks, which mean your brain may not be able to process information as effectively.

Life satisfaction: spending too much time on social media has been reported to negatively affect people’s overall wellbeing and life satisfaction – read the study here.

Social media safety tips from eSafety

The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner has a website, found here, that explains to parents what to look out for if you suspect a child is spending too much time online, and gives tips on how to deal with the problem.

Looking for private health insurance for the whole family? Compere here for a great deal.

While limiting computer time can go some way to reducing the opportunity of spending time on social media, 43% of 10-11 year old kids use handheld and mobile devices to access the internet, while more than half of 16-17 year olds use their own phone. According to this Roy Morgan survey, around 1.5 million people receive a phone as a gift each year. That’s undoubtedly a lot of teens logging on this festive season; here’s hoping all their experiences are positive ones.


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