‘Parents should talk to children about social media at a young age’

28 March 2022, 18:04

Social media apps on a smartphone
Social media apps. Picture: PA

Rates of mental health conditions among children have been rising in the UK, with some saying social media use is linked to increasing anxiety.

Parents are being encouraged to talk to their children about social media at a young age after new research found girls are negatively affected earlier than boys.

The new study, from experts at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, found that girls are more likely to experience lower life satisfaction a year later if they consume social media between the ages of 11 to 13, while for boys this happens when they are older, at 14 to 15.

Researchers said the differences may be down to changes in the structure of the brain, or due to puberty, which occurs later in boys than in girls.

The study also found that increased social media use was linked to lower life satisfaction at the age of 19, while the link was not statistically significant at other ages.

Teenagers using more social media at 19 and experiencing lower levels of life satisfaction may be vulnerable due to changes at this age, such as leaving home or starting work, the study suggested.

Rates of mental health conditions among children have been rising in the UK, with some experts saying social media use is linked to increasing anxiety and depression.

For the new study, published in Nature Communications, experts analysed two UK datasets. These included 17,400 people aged 10 to 21 who were tracked over a period of time.

The study further found that teenagers who had a lower-than-average life satisfaction also tended to have higher social media use one year later.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge, said adolescence is a “period of transition, both in terms of biology – things like hormones and the brain – but also psychologically.”

She added: “We change a huge amount in terms of our cognitive abilities and our social cognition, our social awareness, and our emotion processing during adolescence.

“The social world (also) changes a huge amount in adolescence. We go from little primary schools to big secondary schools, we have a huge number of new people we have to interact with, peers take on heightened importance in adolescence, and young people have to work out where they are in the complex and changing social hierarchy.

“This is a really vulnerable period of life already, and social media comes in and kind of amplifies that.”

Prof Blakemore said social media “is complex” and can be a force for good, such as helping young people maintain social contact during the Covid pandemic.

“On the other hand, there are also negative aspects of social media, where the content of social media can be negative,” she said.

“Whether it’s pornography, or things like graphic images of war that you can’t get away from as soon as you turn on your phone at the moment.

“There’s also things like sleep. It’s not just about what people are doing with social media, but also when.

“Young people’s lives are so full during the day of school, and then after-school activities, that the one time they have to communicate with their friends, to check out their social media, is often in the evening quite late at night.

“We know that sleep is so crucial for wellbeing and mood and cognitive development in adolescence. So depriving adolescents of sleep because of their social media use is going to be a negative thing.”

Asked if there is a message for parents, Prof Blakemore said there is a need to educate young people “about what they are inevitably going to see on their phones via social media”.

She added: “Whether it’s things like social exclusion, not being invited to a party from someone in their class, or images that could upset them, or social pressure, (we need to be) educating them really as young as possible about what they might be exposed to on social media and how they should handle that.”

Dr Amy Orben, from the University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “The link between social media use and mental wellbeing is clearly very complex.

“Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times of our lives.”

By Press Association

More Technology News

See more More Technology News

Glastonbury Festival 2022

Glastonbury 2022 broke data records, EE says

A child using a laptop computer

Pupils ‘AirDrop nudes in maths and use Google Drive to store images’, MPs told

Over 20 million US dollars were raised by the public for drones to fight the Russian invasion

Tech company to gift Bayraktar drones to Ukraine after millions raised by public

A mixed reality holographic patient

UK medical students training on hologram patients in world-first


Warning new internet laws will hand ministers ‘unprecedented’ powers

A battery changing station of Nio brand electrical car (Alamy)

Two dead after Nio electric car they were testing ‘falls from building’

Alexa to expand

Amazon’s Alexa could mimic the voices of dead relatives

Ai-Da at work

Robot painting Glastonbury’s famous faces says festival atmosphere is ‘electric’

Instagram's new age verification tools, which have started being testing in the US

Instagram begins testing new age verification tools

A security surveillance camera is seen near the Microsoft office building in Beijing

Microsoft: Russian cyber spying targets 42 Ukraine allies

Social media apps on a smartphone

Meta removes ‘large numbers’ of upskirting images found on Facebook

Rio Ferdinand poses for photographs with children at 10 Downing Street to celebrate the launch of the Diana Award’s annual anti-bullying campaign Don’t Face It Alone (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Rio Ferdinand calls for new ‘inspiring’ online platform to combat child bullying

A screenshot of the Microsoft Outlook email service

Microsoft’s Outlook email service hit by outage

Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s proposed £35.8bn Twitter deal gets board endorsement

Apple unveils new products

Guide Dogs launches scheme to provide free iPads to children with sight loss

A woman using a laptop

Cloudflare outage knocks hundreds of websites offline