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Published, 8 January 2018

A Life in Likes

The Children's Commissioner for England has published research on the way primary school children use social media, and how its use affects their wellbeing when they start secondary school.

Based on focus groups with 8 to 12 year olds, the research shows two sides to social media: it helps younger children discover new things about the world around them, boosting their moods and allowing them to be creative, but those approaching their teens worry about things they are not able to control. The 'cliff edge' often appears as children move into secondary school, with their use of social media changing from games and creativity to social interactions and image.

While 8-10 year olds use social media for play, this changes significantly as children's social circles expand and many find it difficult to manage. They often become over-dependent on 'likes and 'comments'. Children are constantly contactable and connected and the pressure becomes impossible to ignore when the whole class is online.

The report suggests that schools and parents are successful in teaching children about online safety, but less awareness of the emotional impact of being online.

Main findings from the report include:

  • Children become increasingly anxious about their online image and 'keeping up appearances' as they get older. Their use of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat can also undermine children's view of themselves by making them feel inferior to the people they follow.
  • Children feel social pressure to be constantly connected at the expense of other activities – especially in secondary school where the whole class often have their own phone and are on social media.
  • Children worry about 'sharenting' – parents posting pictures of them on social media without their permission; they feel that parents will not listen if they ask for them to take photos down.
  • Children's Commissioner for England is calling on schools and parents to prepare children for this change towards the end of primary school. She also calls for compulsory digital literacy and online resilience lessons in primary school, to learn about the emotional side of social media.

Read the Mental Health Foundation's report on social media and loneliness in Scottish 18-24 year olds.

Find out more about what to do if you are worried about a child or young person.

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