Parents have another reason to be concerned over their kids’ mental health and social media use. Barnado’s, a UK-based organization dedicated to helping “build stronger families, safer childhoods and positive futures for young people” conducted a study examining how children’s exposure to inappropriate content on social media could negatively impact their mental health.
The findings? Service practitioners who had experience working with children indicated that many kids had unpleasant experiences with social media. What’s more, some of those children were as young as two-years-old.
The study also revealed:
- 78% of practitioners surveyed said they’d worked with children who had accessed either unsuitable or harmful content.
- 79% of practitioners had worked with kids from 11-15 years old who were victims of cyberbullying.
- 58% of kids age 16 and older were victims of cyberbullying.
- Cyberbullying led many of these children to either inflict harm to themselves or consider suicide.
Even more startling, 78% of practitioners surveyed said they had worked with children who had been groomed online. According to The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, “Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.”
Michelle Maliniak, a licensed professional counselor with a Masters in Counselling from the University of Phoenix, told Parentology that this can cause a profound impact on a child’s mental health.
“My biggest concern for children is brain development, because if they’re put under stress or neglect or exposed to things that are shocking or stressful it’s going to affect how their brain develops,” she said. “Children who are exposed to things that are stressful like bullying, or are sexualized very early, it puts their brain under stress because they can’t process it. Because of that, they develop things like anxiety.”
For this reason, Maliniak stressed the importance of protecting children from the dangers of social media. This is where parents are key. Not allowing very young children to use devices is a start, and then putting limits on their screen time once they are old enough. For more mature kids, most social media platforms have parental controls that help you keep an eye on your kids and block potential threats.
“It’s important to protect them as much as you can, even though we can’t [be with them] all the time,” Maliniak says. Ultimately, she stresses, “It’s important to talk about these things and provide them with the right information.”