How Can Social Media Affect Your Child’s Mental Health?

According to NHS Digital, mental health conditions are on the rise—particularly among young people. One in eight of those between ages five to nineteen are suffering from a mental health problem in England.

Although social media is beneficial in allowing your children to stay connected with friends and family members, alongside updating them on what they’re up to, there are specific dangers associated with using social media and being online to be aware of.

These concerns were recently highlighted by Barnardo’s report, “Left to Their Own Devices: Young People, Social Media and Mental Health.” In order to observe the impact of social media on the mental health of children, Barnardo’s collected data from a total of 80 practitioners across over 30 of Barnardo’s services in the UK. 

In children between ages five and ten, half of the practitioners interviewed noted that a third of the children they worked with from this particular age category had been victims of cyberbullying and had also been exposed to harmful or inappropriate content. Alternatively, in the 11 to 15 age group, 79 percent of practitioners observed the young people they worked with have faced cyberbullying, in some cases triggering self-harm and suicide. Devastatingly, 78 percent of the practitioners interviewed responded they had worked with children from this age group who had been victims of online grooming. 

Are Government Plans Working? 

In December 2017, the Government launched its Green Paper, “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health.” The proposals described in the Green Paper emphasised a wider focus on supporting British schools to tackle mental health issues in children. Relevant measures that were listed included educating children on mental health and introducing a designated senior lead for mental health across every British school and college. 

Nonetheless, findings published by NHS Digital on the prevalence of mental health conditions in children suggests the proposals issued in the 2017 Green Paper have been ineffective and subsequently, in accordance with these findings, the government published the “Online Harms White Paper”  in April of this year. The plans laid out by the Government strives to prevent children’s exposure to harmful content and other dangers experienced by children online, such as sexual exploitation and cyberbullying. As parts of the plans enforced in the White Paper, a new statutory duty of care will be established, which means companies will have to accept more responsibility for the safety of their users. 

Social Media Giants Step Forward 

Instagram is taking the lead, when it comes to combatting some of the mental health concerns surrounding social media in young people. Owned by Facebook, the social media networking platform for sharing photos and videos announced in a statement released on Twitter, that they will be running a test, where the total like and video count on all posts will be disabled. The countries involved in Instagram’s social media test to shift the focus “on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get” are Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. Instagram users from these countries will be able to see the number of like and videos on their accounts; however, their followers and members of the public will not be able to. 

Love Island’s Mental Health Concerns

The suicides of Love Island’s contestants, Mike Thalassitis, 26  in March 2019 and Sophie Gradon, 32, last year and the suicide of Jeremy Kyle’s contestant, Steve Dymond unleashed a wave of backlash against the bosses of ITV with the latter show being axed. In alignment with the “duty of care” issued by the Government on companies, ITV have set up a series of protocols to preserve the mental wellbeing of its contestants. 

Richard Cowles, Creative Director of ITV Studios Entertainment stated in a recent statement published by ITV, “Due to the success of the show our Islanders can find themselves in the public eye following their appearance. We really want to make sure they have given real consideration to this and what appearing on TV entails. Discussing all of this with us forms a big part of the casting process and, ultimately, their decision to take part… Our welfare processes follow three key stages: pre-filming, filming and aftercare and we are increasing our post filming support to help Islanders following their time in villa.”

New “Duty of Care” for TV Bosses

Following the suicides of two contestants, Love Island  hired Dr Paul Litchfield, a former Chief Medical Officer with an extensive background in mental health, to oversee the care processes used.  After reviewing the care protocols provided by ITV, Dr Litchfield CBE asserted that theprocesses and support offered to Islanders have “necessarily evolved as the show has developed and grown in popularity.”

He added, “The aim throughout [the new care process] has been to identify vulnerabilities at an early stage so that necessary adjustments can be made, or potential Islanders can be advised that the show is not right for them. A high level of professional expertise has been engaged to provide comprehensive support not only while young people are actively engaged with the show, but also for an extended period when they are adjusting to life thereafter. Professional input is a key element in safeguarding the wellbeing of Islanders, but the genuine caring attitudes I have observed from those who make the show are as important.”   

Although, the process of protecting and preserving the mental health of young people has been slow, there are genuine steps being taken by social media platforms and TV shows to aid with supporting the mental wellbeing of young people. The new “duty of care” described in the “Online Harms White Paper” may mean further changes on how social networking platforms, websites and other elements of popular culture, such as reality TV interact with its young consumers are yet to come. 

See Also:

Can Technology Keep Your Kids Safe Online?

How Can Too Much Blue Light Impact Your Child’s Health?

Internet Safety: Exploring The Online World

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