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Children 'ill-equipped' for social media pressures

CONCERNS: Boy using a mobile phone under his desk at school (Photo credit: Alamy)

SCHOOLS SHOULD do more to prepare children for the “significant emotional risk” of social media, a state watchdog has claimed.

Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield highlighted the strain social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, place upon children entering secondary school.

While social media can provide benefits and awareness to various issues in the world to children and young teens, it is also exposes them to significant risks emotionally, particularly as they approach Year 7.

Speaking to the BBC, Longfield said: “It’s really when they hit secondary school that all of these things come together.”

“They find themselves chasing likes, chasing validation, being very anxious about their appearance online and offline and feeling that they can't disconnect – because that will be seen as socially damaging.”

According to the Commissioner’s report, while eight to ten-year-olds use social media to play games and to find out new things about the world, children’s attention shifts to social interaction and appearance to fellow online users as they turn 11-12.

“I am worried that many children are starting secondary school ill-equipped to cope with the sudden demands of social media as their world expands.”

I want to see children living healthy digital lives. That means parents engaging more with what their children are doing online,” she added.

Longfield added that social media companies should also take more responsibility in preparing children for the “emotional demands” of a relentless online presence.

“Failing to do so risks leaving a generation of children growing up chasing likes to make them feel happy, worried about their appearance and image as a result of the unrealistic lifestyles they follow on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, and increasingly anxious about switching off due to the constant demands of social media.”

The report which discovered these findings - called Life in Likes - involved eight groups with 32 children aged eight to 12. They discovered that the most popular social media accounts are Snapchat, Instagram, Musical.ly and WhatsApp. However, most of these apps are blocked from Under-13s.

Researchers say children also become increasingly anxious about their online image and "keeping up appearances" as they get older.

This can be made worse when they start to follow celebrities and others outside close family and friends and this group grows significantly upon starting secondary school.

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