Is Social Media Ruining Childhood?

We have all seen it… a child is irritable, annoying their parents, behaving badly. The parent instinctively reaches for their phone, gives it to the child…suddenly…silence. This reach for the phone or tablet has become a reflex action for parents, who have reared children so technologically savvy that now the only acceptable diversion for a 3 year old is his/her mother's or father’s phone or tablet. Ten years ago, giving a toddler a mobile phone would probably have resulted in it being a mild source of entertainment before being thrown on the floor covered in dribble. Now, it opens up a whole new world for the modern child. Whilst we all undoubtedly delight in the peace and quiet that this new technologically obsessed generation allows, we must consider its darker implications. What is really going on behind those screens? Never before has this question been more pertinent than now, when more than three quarters of children aged 10-12 have social media accounts, despite being below the 13 year old age limit. Surely we all must ask ourselves whether social media is ruining childhood.

The power of social media is self-evident. It is hard to avoid the swathes of celebrities who have succeeded in developing online careers through blogs and Instagram accounts, and the ability of social media to influence and manipulate behaviour is on the rise. So what effect is this having on the new generation of 8-15 year olds who have become social media obsessed? The advent of the tablet computer has been important in this increased internet interaction amongst children. 71% of children now have access to a tablet computer at home, making premature internet access almost unavoidable. The biggest threat to childhood in terms of the internet is cyberbullying which has affected more than 1 in 5 children aged 10-12 years. Gone are the days when children came home from school and happily spent the evening playing outside and climbing tress, now the main preoccupation is keeping in contact with their friends via Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. This has lead to an unprecedented increase in cyber-bullying as children are able to send hurtful comments in an anonymous way across the internet as opposed to having to say them face to face.

Linked to cyber-bullying is the new phenomenon  of ‘Facebook depression’ which is particularly prevalent amongst teenagers and preteens. This age group is liable to spend significant amounts of time on social media websites, often gossiping and discussing their issues with their friends but never coming to a definitive conclusion. This leads to a sense of depression in which they are totally consumed by their own problems and those of their friends. Intrinsically linked to this depression is the power of the new acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) which has caused panic waves the length and breadth of Britain. No longer can a child remain in blissful ignorance of the party that they have not been invited to attend; the photos, videos and statuses on social media sites are inescapable and FOMO is harder and harder to avoid. Undoubtedly however the biggest threat of social media to children is not other people’s activities but their own. At such a young age, children do not understand the repercussions of their actions on social media, creating a ‘digital footprint’ which is hard to erase and can come back to haunt them.

Despite the obvious benefits of social media we must question whether children are being exposed to it at too young an age. Increasingly we are creating a generation of young children who are more technologically able than their parents, whose concept of play is associated solely with ‘screens’ and whose childhood is becoming progressively less sheltered. It is time therefore to make a stand, to limit social media, and ultimately to restore childhood to its proper owners: the children.

 

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