Children, Social Media and Mental Health

We know that there are many different threats your child is exposed to when using Instagram, including cyberbullying and exposure to predators. But have you ever thought of the psychological risks involved when young people use Instagram?

A recent American study, which analysed over 150,000 social media posts made by 200 children over two years, has provided a worrying insight into the mental wellbeing of children using social media. Here is just a brief look at some of the worrying excerpts taken from interviews with 13 year olds who use social media:

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Many children reported a HIGH DEPENDANCY on social media, checking their newsfeeds up to ONE HUNDRED TIMES A DAY! Participants also reported feelings of ANXIETY when they are not on social media, some causes of this anxiety included:

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Instagram users carefully select photos they wish to post, and then edit, filter and Photoshop these images, eventually posting them at a strategic time when they believe most followers will be online, therefore increasing their potential to receive likes and comments. The curated images featured on an individual’s Instagram page provide a very inaccurate reflection of their real life, in the words of British Supermodel Alexa Chung, who has over 1.9 million Instagram followers, ‘nobody is as happy as they look on Instagram.’

Alexa Chung believes nobody is as happy as they appear on Instagram.

Viewing filtered, curated, and strategically posted images of peers, as well as posts about friends hanging out without them, can leave children feeling like their peers live better lives than them, and that they are not attractive or popular enough to be included. Social media leaves children vulnerable to feeling anxious, lonely, and socially isolated. Nearly 50% of research participants reported that they feel excluded when they see posts of friends hanging out without them online. Even more disturbing than this, is the fact that ONE THIRD of research participants reported that they had made posts on social media that would have made other users feel excluded!

Research revealed the great emphasis that children place on the number of followers they have on social media, and how many likes and comments that they get on their posts. Children use these numbers as a form of barometer of measuring popularity, and determining their social network status. Of the 200 children who participated in this survey, 80% believed that you could tell how popular a person was by looking at their social networks. Children using Instagram appear fixated on the number of followers and likes they receive, and it is not uncommon for children as young as TEN to have an excess of 300 followers.

Worryingly, this research showed that the ranking of social media status is often a case of rich becoming richer and poor becoming poorer. Children who were popular amongst peers at school reported the highest number of followers, likes and comments. Children who were not quite as popular reported less followers, likes and comments, these children also reported feelings of depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem.

Whilst active supervision is the key to preventing majority of risks posed to your child on Instagram, there is also a need to acknowledge the less obvious ways in which Instagram can impact your child’s development and wellbeing. The younger the Instagram user, the more likely they are to be caught up in the ‘social ranking’ aspect of Instagram, which is proven to have serious impacts on a child’s self esteem and wellbeing. It is time to rethink attitudes towards young children on Instagram!


2 thoughts on “Children, Social Media and Mental Health

  1. Maria, The Cyber Safety Guru says:

    Great post! Sad to think that most youth are now scaling their beauty and worth through how many likes or their impressions on Instagram! I think it’s really important for parents to realise how highly youth rates their experiences and bond with social media, in order to help them create a healthy relationship with media. Again, providing useful information on Instagram, many thanks as i think Instagram is a phenomena that many parents don’t understand!


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