Behavioral and emotional problems in children below the age of 12 are common. Parents over the past years have scored myriad of parenting books in a bid to understand the various behavioral and emotional issues that affect children and have learnt to patiently tackle the issues. However as social media continues to penetrate even the remotest homesteads in the country, parents are now facing new kinds of emotional demands that is literally driving them bonkers.
Technological advancement and the availability of internet enabled devices in the country has allowed the penetration of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram just to name a few ,to make its way into homes of people young and old alike.
There has been an explosion of mobile technology use among young children in the past several years which has sparked a heated debate as children get internet access at an even younger age. According to a report from common sense media, which studies the safe use of media for young children, the percentage of children under 8 years with access to a smartphone drastically increased from 52% to 75%. The most startling bit of the report is that 38% of babies under age 2 have used a mobile device. It’s no longer a rare sight to find a toddler operating a smart phone and dexterously at that.
While Smartphones, tablets and other internet enabled devices is the Key to unfettered access to the internet and social media there are benefits and dangers that come with it to children below age 12.They include- friendly apps for learning and ability to build relationships and foster strong interpersonal connections with friends who are local, long distance and family members on a global scale(if such interactions are in safe, public spaces with large screens and clear audio or with parent supervision).
However access to internet and social media sites by children transitioning from primary to secondary school has presented significant negative effects on their emotional and social growth.
Anne Longfield carried out a study to find out the social media emotional demands of children transitioning to secondary schools. In her report she found that:
- Many children were over-dependent on “likes” and comments for social validation. The more the like’s one gets means that you are cool and people like you. The youngsters measure their social status by how much public approval they get online. Some even change their image in real life to boost their online image.
- Children approach a “cliff-edge “as they transition to secondary schools when social media becomes more important to their lives.
Ms. Longfield found out that secondary schools are where the trouble begins because the children are ill-equipped to cope with the avalanche of pressure they face online. The children find themselves chasing likes, chasing validation, being very anxious about their appearances online and offline and feeling like they can’t disconnect as that could be viewed as socially damaging by their peers.
Despite the fact that many social media platforms have a minimum age limit of 13 years to own an account; many children below the minimum age requirement have their own social media accounts. This can be attributed to parents getting tired of handing their smartphones to their children and opt to get them their own. This reduces the amount of supervision that a parent could have on their child’s phone.
The emotional risks of social media are very evident as more parents express their displeasure at the smartphone usage among their children aged below 12.
“My Kid Jaymo has become a totally different person ever since I got him a smartphone when he joined form one. He no longer wants to wear the same clothes I’ve been buying him over the last few years, now he wants to buy things in order to take pictures and flaunt to his friends on Facebook” says a distraught parent.
While we can’t prohibit children from access to internet due to its benefits, what can be done to tackle the emotional risks of social media?
- Mathew reed, chief executive of the children’s society, urges parents to have open conversations with their children about the websites and chats they use. This could include looking through their friend lists together and find out exactly how their child knows the different people. Such regular conversations would make the children comfortable enough to turn to their parents if they had any worries or concerns
- Grace Barret, a children mental health and self-esteem expert says that the responsibility to teach children about social media largely falls on the parents. It might be hard for a lot of parents today because they weren’t raised in the social media era and don’t understand how severe the danger is .However, he says that teachers cannot be equipped to handle everything including responsible social media usage ,citing the fact that most of these children use social media at home in their presence. The parent’s involvement can help the children navigate the emotional roller-coaster of the negative aspects of social media.
- Anne Longfield suggests that a compulsory digital literacy and online resilience lessons for Class seven and eight pupils in the primary school curriculum so that they can learn about the emotional side of social media. This will help them learn to handle the extreme social media pressure as they join secondary school where they are the most emotionally vulnerable.