The Huffington Post recently released an article informing its readers that Instagram is one of the most dangerous social media apps on the market. Researchers say it has a serious impact on body image and sleep.
A survey of almost 1,500 14 to 24-year-olds found that the photo-sharing platform has a serious impact on young people’s body image and the quality and quantity of sleep they get.
It also contributes to bullying, anxiety, depression and a genuine fear of missing out that makes it difficult to disconnect, the research by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM) found.
“Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues,” – Shirley Cramer, chief executive of RSPH
One in five (21% of) 14- to 15-year-olds report having been cyberbullied, up from 4% in eight- to nine-year-olds. Bullies post threatening messages, spread rumours and share humiliating images via sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram for teenagers, and Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin for pre-teens.
But contrary to public perception, bullying via social media is not as common as traditional forms of face-to-face bullying.
Students who are bullied online are also likely to be victims of traditional bullying and most know the perpetrator in real life.
Like traditional bullying, the highest risk time for cyberbullying is at the transition to high school.
Children and teens are also more likely to be bullied on social media if they:
- spend a lot of time online
- engage in risky online behaviours such as sharing passwords
- use social media sites to bully others.
Victims of cyberbullying report high rates of anxiety and depression.
But the evidence is mixed about whether cyber or traditional bullying impacts more on mental health. It’s likely that both have a serious impact.
There is also a cumulative effect: the more experiences of bullying (whether cyber or traditional), the worse the mental health risk.
Most Australian children (78%) have used social media by the ages of eight or nine. Usage increases during teenage years, with most 16-17-year-olds (92%) accessing it at least once a month, and around half with daily access.
When parents see a problem, it’s sometimes tempting to try to ban children from using social media. But a ban is difficult to enforce, given the reliance on the internet for education.
A recent review of international research confirms that participation in social media can increase teenagers’ feelings of self-esteem, support, and fitting in with a group. Children relate to each other through social media, for good and for bad.
You can help your child from being targeted by adequately supervising them when they’re online, only providing access to social media sites that are appropriate for their level of maturity, and maintaining good lines of communication.
It’s important to educate you child about about internet safety. This includes ensuring they only “friend” people they know in real life, and that they consider the possible impacts of information before posting.
Try keeping computers only in the common area of the house, friending or following your child online, and occasionally checking their online profile.
Over time, you can give your child more independence as they develop their skills to manage more complicated situations online. But try to maintain good communication so they can come to you with any problems – this includes listening without overreacting.
Look out for signs of distress, such as greater emotional reactivity, avoiding school or social situations, sleep disturbance, or a drop in school marks.
If your child is unwilling to speak with you, they may be willing to call a support service such as the Kids Helpline.
If the problem involves someone he or she knows in real life, your child might be able to sort out the problem directly. Or you can ask the school for help.
You can help your child decide whether to block or unfriend online users who are causing distress. It’s wise to keep a record of problems, by taking screenshots. Offensive content can be reported to the website or carrier, and if not addressed, can be reported to the Children’s eSafety Commissioner.
If you think your child is in danger, contact the police or Crimestoppers.
Finally, if your child suffers ongoing distress, consider getting professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist or your GP.