Last week saw the release of the Life in ‘Likes’ report from the children’s commissioner, this report explores how children aged 8 – 12 use social media in their lives and what impact this can have on their well-being.
It has long been thought that social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram, Musical.ly and WhatsApp are been used by children under the age of 13 and this report, based on interviews and meetings with children aged 8 to 12 years old, suggests that the majority of children aged between 10 and 12 years have their own social media accounts.
The children used social media for several reasons including social media making them feel happy or more relaxed.
“If you’re in a bad mood at home you go on social media and you laugh and then you feel better”
“If you’re like really stressed or something and you watch a really satisfying slime video it makes you like calmer”
The report suggests that children’s use of social media is having an impact on their personal development and wellbeing.
‘Children felt good when they got ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ from friends, and some Year 7 children were starting to become dependent on them, using techniques to guarantee they would get a high number of ‘likes’.’
As children move to Secondary school it is clearly very important that social media and mobile phones are used regularly on a daily basis to communicate with their peers.
“Hmm, 24 hours in a day, so I probably use it 18 hours a day”
In terms of the children’s understanding of Online Safety they showed an understanding of how to protect themselves from online predators and online bullying and discussed strategies for protecting themselves including analysing pictures they had taken for clues to their real world location before sharing online.
“I think to make sure there’s no one I know in the background. My mum told me it’s a safety thing because people could look at it and get information. So, you just take a photo on a plain wall. I don’t want people seeing my house number. I could still do it at my house but just the bricks. If you’re at a friend’s house you definitely wouldn’t take a photo of their house, not showing the number of the house”
The children could also suggest strategies and actions to take if they were faced with online bullies but were less forthcoming on how to deal with their emotional well-being as a result of online bullying activity. There was also evidence to suggest that content shared between peers was often confusing as they did not know if it was real or a joke. Children were also unsure how to react to or deal with their emotions when coming across other emotionally challenging content including racist and violent content.
“When someone sent a racist video about me to a group Snapchat the sad feeling lasted for months, and I had to keep it in but I was angry. One day I lashed out and then it felt a lot better when I told them [my parents]”
Children are clearly affected by their own parents and older siblings’ use of technology and social media and many expressed concerns about the content their parents shared about them online without any discussion or consent often referred to as ‘sharenting’.
“I don’t like when my mum posts pictures of me, she just says ‘give me a picture’ ’’
Some of the key recommendations from the report are:
‘Year 6 and Year 7 are crucial ages at which to prioritise lessons around digital literacy and online resilience as this is the age at which social media can begin to dominate day-to-day life. Lessons around online safety learned at younger ages are insufficient to prepare children for the ‘cliff edge’ around the time of transition to secondary school.’
‘Educate parents about the change that takes place when children enter secondary school – the broadening of their exposure to peers and older children on social media – and that social media use at younger ages should not be assumed to prepare children adequately for this.’
‘While children have internalised messages around ‘online safety’, they are not always aware of the subtler impacts that social media use can have on wellbeing. Teachers should incorporate awareness of this into education about life online.’
‘If social media companies maintain that their services are not suitable for under 13s then it is important they address this underage use through closer and more rigorous moderation.’
It is important to remember that the majority of social media apps and content the children access online has been designed by adults for an adult audience and children suddenly find themselves in this world of content without the emotional development, experiences and resilience to process and respond to it.
The 5Rights’ ‘Digital Childhood’ report is a useful document to help schools address some of the issues raised in the report.