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#2 The Digitial Dilemma: Examining Social Media's Impact on Children's Mental Health

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

"Social Media is a Mixed Blessing - Use it the Right Way - Opens a world of endless connections and knowledge,Use it the Wrong Way - Challenges self-worth and blurs self-perception! "


Just a few years ago, did we ever imagine that social media would be such an integral part of our lives? For most of us in this modern world, it is an essential part of our routine. For some, it's the first and last thing we check. Over the years, it has drastically changed how we communicate and share our life stories and our interactions with the outside world. It has suddenly brought the world closer and given us an easy way to stay in touch with family and long-lost friends. We can now transcend geographical boundaries and access knowledge from around the globe.


Two decades ago, when Facebook was launched, it almost brought about a revolution in social media. It changed how we connected and interacted with people. In recent years, multiple social media platforms have entered the market. Easy access to cheap mobile phones and improved internet connectivity facilitated social media’s growth. The fierce competition got them trying to develop new and distinguished features to keep users engaged on their platforms. With millions of users hooked to these apps, social media became a top marketing and advertising tool.


Today, it has become a primary source of news, a platform for us to share our views and opinions, a way to connect with family and friends and even a marketplace for different products and services. And before we knew it, social media platforms started impacting all of us negatively, especially our children. Let’s look into some negative influences of excessive social media usage.


Social Media's Impact on Children's Mental Health:


Cyberbullying



a child with mobile phone

Cyberbullying is one of the primary ways that affect children’s mental health. It is a type of bullying that takes place online through various social media apps. The bullies find an easy way to hide behind the digital platform and target their victims. It can happen in multiple ways. For example, they can send hurtful messages, share embarrassing photos or spread rumours about you. They might create your fake profile or even threaten you. The worst part about online content is that it spreads like fire and stays accessible for a long time. Therefore, leading to prolonged harm for the person at the receiving end.


Cyberbullying can sometimes occur between friends, too, without them even realising it is causing damage to the other person. It is easier to type something in a message than say it face-to-face. When you send a message digitally to someone, there are no supporting cues - like conveying through body language. Thus, if you haven't framed your message correctly, it can easily cause misunderstanding.


Children often engage in playful banter on chats and tease each other. But, they can easily cross the line and hurt someone if that person ends up being a regular target amongst friends. Words that might seem harmless might hit the person hard.


Similarly, a light-hearted comment meant for a closed group, sometimes just for fun, gets shared with a broader audience. The targeted person might get embarrassed, hurt by this act and doubt themselves. Children have various chat groups for conversations. Sometimes, they might intentionally leave someone out of their chat groups. It might be for whatever reason, but the child left out starts feeling socially isolated.


Thus, unintentional cyberbullying can occur between friends too. It strains friendships and relations. Cyberbullying of any type causes emotional stress in children of all ages. It leads to anxiety and low self-esteem. Some might even go into depression.


Perfection

Young adults clicking a selfie

Social media has become a place where we share our happy moments and highlight the best aspects of our lives. It is a place where everyone wants to display their best side. From your perfect parties to perfect backdrops for holidays and top-class photos. Then be it replicating your favourite celebrity look or visiting exotic locations, the focus is the near-perfect photo.


Social Media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are famous among teens and young adults. Children come across photos of people holidaying in luxurious locations or wearing perfectly styled outfits for occasions. They watch their favourite celebrities and go ga-ga over their perfect bodies and skin.


Now, some kids might just scroll through their feeds, but for some, it can be the beginning of self-doubt. They start comparing themselves to these online versions they see. They start questioning their looks and look down upon their own accomplishments. Slowly, they begin to judge their self-worth based on what they see on social media. This can lead to negative emotions and thoughts. They might feel their life isn't as exciting or worth it compared to what they see about others in the virtual world.


Children develop low self-esteem and become more conscious about their looks. Some go to the extent of starving themselves to meet unrealistic standards they see on social media platforms. It leads to anxiety, depression and has a significant impact on the child’s mental health.


Seeking Online Validation

a young girl clicking a selfie

As discussed earlier, we use social media to share and post things about ourselves. Our family & friends comment and like our posts and sometimes even share them further. It has become a way of connecting and updating each other about our lives through visuals.


But for some, it can become an attention-seeking tool. Children, especially adolescents, might harbour the need to constantly seek likes, comments and followers. They start considering it as an important measure to define their self-worth. They will go to the extent of carefully defining the online persona that portrays them in a particular manner that will gain them popularity and followers. They get pressured to be part of the latest trends and seek validation from others. This desire to be accepted in the virtual world slowly detaches them from reality.


Yes, these likes and comments make us happy and develop a sense of belonging in the virtual community. But constantly pursuing it can have adverse effects too. Children start relying on external validation to define their self-worth. They feel insecure, and some might begin seeking attention in unhealthy ways to gain more recognition. These lead to various mental health issues.


Addiction to Gadgets at Young Age

a child watching cartoons

Today, kids as young as two years know how to scroll using a mobile or a tablet. Children are fascinated with these gadgets as they offer unlimited entertainment through cartoon shows, toy reviews and other entertaining videos. These videos are bright, interactive and made to captivate a child’s attention. The platforms offering this content have back-end programs and algorithms recommending similar content based on your viewing. As children keep watching and scrolling, they enter a cycle of binge-watching. Children cannot control the urge to stop watching and avoid doing any other activities. A few years back, there was even a news report based on a survey “Mobile has become a new babysitter! Smartphone addiction cases up by 75% in one year.” [1] This report is alarming! When and how did we let smartphones take over our lives and our children?


This addiction can impact a child’s growth in various ways. Some have delayed language development. For instance, a 5-yr old child was very good at recognising alphabets, numbers, colours etc., and parents took pride that the child developed all only by watching favourite videos on gadgets. But the child struggled to communicate in simple sentences with parents or grandparents. Some children might adopt a sedentary lifestyle over physical outdoor play, which can lead to other health problems in the long run. Due to constant stimulation, kids cannot focus on other activities. Sometimes, unmonitored internet access leads kids to inappropriate and even harmful content not meant for their age group. Over a period of time, this addiction to gadgets and their content is so strong that a child doesn’t know what to do without a device and throws tantrums. Parents sometimes give in, but in the longer run, it can lead to behavioural problems, anxiety & depression.


Impact on Sleep Cycle


Many of us are used to checking our mobile's last thing before sleeping. Many children, too, use their devices before bedtime. Scrolling through social media, they lose track of time. Plus, this brain stimulation just before bedtime hampers the sleep cycle. When you don't sleep well, you wake up grumpy, irritated. Children today have hectic daytime schedules, and this incomplete sleep impacts their daily routines too. They struggle to concentrate on tasks, and it also affects their mood. This irritability spreads to other areas of life and affects mental wellness.


Summary


As you can see, without parental control and guidance, though slowly and steadily, there is social media's impact on children's mental health. It is causing everyone, especially children, more harm than you had ever imagined. Children, particularly adolescents in the delicate stage of life, get easily carried away with the new features and apps they are exposed to. It causes a long-term impact on their mental health.


Let’s ask ourselves:


"Are we indeed in control of social media, or is it controlling us?"


"Are we allowing these platforms to dictate our children's self-worth and influence their well-being?"


Let's pause and reflect on the amount of time they spend online, the content they consume, and its impact on their emotional state. We are looking forward to hearing the views of our fellow parents/teachers & caregivers in the comments below. We would also like to know what our young readers (children and adolescents - if they are reading too) think about this. Let’s have an open conversation!


As we said earlier,


Let’s break the silence around children's mental health

and start the conversation today!



References:


  1. BASU, SREERADHA D., and DEVINA SENGUPTA. 2017. “Mobile has become the new babysitter! Smartphone addiction cases up by 75% in one year.” The Economic Times, July 31, 2017. https://m.economictimes.com/magazines/panache/mobile-has-become-the-new-babysitter-smartphone-addiction-cases-up-by-75-in-one-year/articleshow/59843770.cms.


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