Smartphones & Social Media – What Parents Need to Know

By Nick Smallman

Why are phones addictive to kids?

It’s perfectly normal for parents to worry about their children and the internet, especially since in the UK, at least 50% of ten-year-olds possess their own smartphone and more children watch video-on-demand than watch live broadcast TV. (In fact, 1 in 4 children do not watch live broadcast TV at all).

YouTube remains a firm favourite among children. 5- to 15-year-olds are more likely to pick YouTube as their platform of choice over on-demand services such as Netflix, or TV channels including the BBC and ITV. Most of this viewing is on smartphones and as the parent of every smartphone child knows, they seem permanently glued to it. But does your child’s obsessive behaviour mean they’re addicted to their smartphone?

In 2016, US based non-profit organisation Common Sense Media released a report which identified that 50% of children feel addicted to their mobile devices. Meanwhile 59% of the parents surveyed believe their children really are addicted. The survey found that 72% of teens and 48% of parents felt the need to respond immediately to texts, social network messages and other alerts and that 69% of parents and 78% of teens felt compelled to check their devices at least hourly. To find out what you can do to help your children to cope with the challenges and demands of social media and smartphone technology, please click here.

Hateful and harmful content

Children are seeing more hateful online content than they used to, and several children in Ofcom’s Media Lives research reported seeing violent and other disturbing content online. Half of 12-15s say they’ve seen something hateful about a particular group of people.

Meanwhile almost 50% of parents are increasingly concerned about their child seeing self-harm related content online, and some elements of online gaming.

Sleep deprivation

Evidence from a variety of cross-sectional, longitudinal, and empirical studies implicate smartphone and social media use in the increase in mental distress, self-injurious behaviour, and suicidality among youth; moreover, social media content often involves normalisation and even promotion of self-harm and suicidality among youth.

High proportions of youth engage in heavy smartphone use and media multitasking, with resultant chronic sleep deprivation, and negative effects on cognitive control, academic performance, and socioemotional functioning.

An analysis of US annual survey data found an abrupt increase in the proportion of adolescents getting insufficient sleep after 2011–2013, with more than 40% sleeping less than 7 hours most nights in 2015.

Online Safety

According to its Online Harms White Paper the Government rightly wants the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online. But they face an uphill struggle. Most teens use some form of social media and have a profile on a social networking site. Many visit these sites every day. Most teens post photos of themselves online or use their real names on their profiles; they also reveal their birthdays and interests and post the name of their school and the town where they live. That is madness. For obvious reasons, check that your child has not posted such detailed information. For tips and help on how to keep your children safe online there are numerous websites on our Resources Tab offering it.

Negative research findings on smartphone and social media use

There are enough negative research findings on smartphone use and social media in connection with children to fill a library. Fortunately, help is at hand from people like US Psychologist Jean M. Twenge who’s been researching the topic for 25 years and written 150 scientific publications and 6 books including iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – And Completely Unprepared For Adulthood…

In 2012 Twenge noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviours and emotional states: “The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs”. She’d never seen anything like it. But after careful research discovered the cause was the exact moment when Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50%.

She calls children born from 1995 onwards generation iGen. The children of iGen are literally living their lives on their smartphones and are more comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party. But rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011 and Twenge says it’s no exaggeration to describe iGen children as being on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades, most of which can be traced to their phones.

As one 13-year described herself and her friends to Twenge, “I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.” To find out what you can do help your children please click here.

Parent’s fears over sexting and abuse amongst teenagers

The BBC has published an educational article online that deals with some of the worst fears of parents in the age of social media and the Internet. The article describes a vivid picture of sexual assaults and harassment in teenagers’ lives that has been revealed in recent months, and the resulting emotional turmoil which parents face .

According to Ofsted, the school’s watchdog for England, some girls can be contacted by up to 11 boys a night asking for nude images. Nearly 90% of girls, and nearly 50% of boys, said being sent explicit pictures or videos of things they did not want to see happens a lot or sometimes to them or their peers .

Children and young people were rarely positive about the Relationship, Health and Sex Education they had received at school. They felt it was too little, too late and that the curriculum was not equipping them with the information and advice they needed to navigate the reality of their lives. Because of these gaps, they told us they turned to social media or their peers to educate each other. Typical platforms for sharing material between peers such as ‘up skirting’ photos and ‘dick-pic’ images, tend to be WhatsApp or Snapchat .

If you’re a parent and have concerns about your children, their smartphones, social media and what to do about it, you will find this Workshop very useful.

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