Studies suggest that prolonged use of social media can be bad for mental health. Worryingly, usage is relatively high among both K12 and university students.
A Pew Research Center survey found that in the US, some 88 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds were active on social media in 2018. Those within the 18 to 24 age bracket are more likely to use platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter compared with those in their mid-to-late 20s.
Meanwhile, in the UK, a 2018 Ofcom report found that the proportion of children with a social media profile has remained static since 2017, with 70 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds and 20 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 11 building an online profile.
Facebook is the most popular social media site or messaging app, used by 72 percent of 12-15-year-olds with a social media profile. That same age group are also more likely than in 2017 to use Instagram (65 percent versus 47 percent) and WhatsApp (43 percent versus 32 percent).
The report also shows that 12 to 15s acknowledge the social pressures and negative associations attached to the use of these platforms, with 78 percent feeling there is pressure to look popular and 90 percent saying that people are mean to each other on social media, at least ‘sometimes’.
Why are children increasingly going online for entertainment and less to traditional TV? Our Making Sense Of Media study explores and explains the latest trends in how kids use and understand the digital world: https://t.co/lD0ch4w4sh pic.twitter.com/oxvn3wUXez
— Ofcom (@Ofcom) April 12, 2019
Girls, in particular, felt more pressure to look popular all of the time when compared to boys. They’re also more likely to feel there should be rules regulating what people can say online to prevent hurtful comments.
Ofcom also found that parental concerns about the internet are on the rise.
This may not come as a surprise, with social media use by children and teenagers facing greater scrutiny following widely reported incidents involving student deaths.
The recent news of a 16-year-old Malaysian student who committed suicide following an Instagram poll has devastated many.
Reports said the girl had hosted a poll on Instagram, asking the question: “REALLY IMPORTANT, Help Me Choose D/L”, where D stood for death, while L stood for life. A total of 69 percent of respondents chose ‘D’.
— theSun (@theSundaily) May 15, 2019
According to Reuters, Instagram’s Asia-Pacific head of communications Wong Ching Yee said Instagram had reviewed the teenager’s account and found that the poll ended with 88 percent votes for ‘L’ at the end of its 24-hour cycle.
However, district police chief Aidil Bolhassan told Reuters that the poll numbers could have changed when the news of the teenager’s death started to spread.
Meanwhile, in the UK, British student Molly Russell tragically took her own life in 2017. Her family found distressing material about depression and suicide after scouring her Instagram account. Her father believes Instagram is partly responsible for his daughter’s death.
Instagram responded by saying it “does not allow content that promotes or glorifies self-harm or suicide and will remove content of this kind.”
Extending a helping hand
On a larger scale, tech companies must step up and protect users from harmful content, while governments must ensure that schools have adequate resources, including access to mental health professionals or counsellors, to help students in need.
But how can parents and teachers play their role?
Here are some suggestions:
- Monitor your child online and not just when they’re on social media. Parents should place their home computers in a communal area of the house.
- Create rules about the duration of internet use and enforce them.
- Teach your child to post responsibly. This includes avoiding sharing personal information online or posting anything rude or offensive about others.
- Educate your child to report inappropriate posts they see on social media. For example, on Instagram, users can tap the three-dot icon on the right of a post and then select “report”, followed by “it’s inappropriate” before choosing the relevant option, such as “self-injury”.
- Encourage your child to call emergency services for help if they sense someone is in immediate danger (e.g. posts about self-harm and suicide), or to report it to a trusted adult.
- If the troubling material was posted by someone your child knows, encourage them to reach out to their friend and share information on relevant hotlines, or ask them to do so with your support.
- Educate parents and encourage them to talk to their children about being safe online.
- Keep an eye out for at-risk students, and consider speaking to their parents about monitoring their online activities if you sense they need it.
- Provide resources for students about online safety.
- Get students to sign ‘Internet Safety Pledges’ and post them in your classroom as a reminder for them; or
- Create a school policy and get students to sign it before using the school’s IT facilities.