Too many children born in Generation Z (1995-2012) and Gen Alpha (2013-2025) are becoming increasingly obsessed with their looks, their social standing and screen time in general. The only difference between children in the new and older generations is the easy access to technology, social media being a big part of this.
As someone who became aware of social media at the age of 12 (the age most begin to feel the pressures of being a teenager and youth culture), I became extremely self-conscious extremely quickly. I was obsessed with the amount of likes I got on a post, with having the cutest clothes and the newest iPhone- and I still am as it is extremely hard (as a self-aware adult) to break the need to be liked on social media.
If it is this hard for me, 7 years later, after only having been introduced to social media at age 12- how hard will it be for children who have never known anything different?
The positives of social media
When discussing such a sensitive topic, it is easy to dive straight into the negative effects that result from social media such as anxiety, depression, and the various dangers that other users present. However, the positive things that have resulted from social media cannot be ignored.
Social media allows people to:
Stay in contact with others around the world.
Connect with communities of people that share the same interests as them.
Find outlets that can offer emotional support.
Discover new ways of learning.
Children can access learning tools that might help them with education.
Children can watch educational videos.
Children have easier access to their favourite programmes, films, and books.
All of these things became especially useful during the Corona-Virus Pandemic from 2020-2021, with children and teenagers (including myself) having lessons online to keep on track with their education. Not only did social media help in this example, with schools keeping parents up to date with the government's latest guidance regarding the return to in person lessons, but it allowed children to keep in touch with their classmates, out of school friends and family members. This helped to combat loneliness, especially in the case of older children and teenagers who (as I have found after multiple conversations with people my age that experienced lockdown), experienced a sense of relief knowing that they were not alone and that friends were only a phone call away. New apps became popular during this time also, with House Party being one of the main ones (in my experience). The app allowed video calls to take place among different accounts with the friends that they had added, allowed users to play games, have effects on their screens and even let friends join in conversations without an invitation- bringing people of all ages together in a time of uncertainty and fear.
Whilst all of this sounds good and was effective in theory, there came several risks because of the easy access to one another, with people taking advantage of others.
The negatives of social media
Unfortunately, in my experience of social media, there is more harm done than good- especially among children and teenagers. Due to the rise of social media being so quick (with Myspace becoming the first social media site to reach a million views monthly in 2004), we are only now starting to see the long-term effects on the younger generations that have grown up alongside social media. The reality is that it is unprecedented territory, older generations got to enjoy their childhoods offline (so to speak), playing on the streets until dusk, socialising in person and reading and playing more.
However now it is common to see children playing on electronics at all times of the day, some never experiencing human interaction which can lead to an array of problems. Excessive screentime for tweens can lead to various behavioural disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, with some studies showing that watching YouTube videos can lead to developing OCD. For teenagers, too much screen time can also have negative effects such as comparing themselves to celebrities and unrealistic body standards (which can cause eating disorders), obsessing over likes on various social media posts (which can lead to self-hatred) and seeing the portrayal of the ‘perfect life’ (which can lead to depression).
Not only can social media have negative effects in the sense of gaming and posts, but it can also be a way for predators to approach children and teenagers, pretending to be younger than they are, to groom them. Many predators target young people through forums such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, using accounts that make them appear the same age as their target so that they can befriend them and build a relationship in the hopes that the child will come to trust them. Unfortunately, this has become extremely common across the world- with there being at least 20 cases per term in my high school alone (between the years I attended). This can lead to numerous dangers, with young people thinking these predators are their friends, trusting them enough to meet up with them or being manipulated into sending them explicit messages and photographs, which said predators use as blackmail, then leading to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.
Although there has been awareness raised, with children and young people being taught the dangers of adding people online, parental controls being added to apps, screen time limitations being set and body positivity movements happening across most platforms on social media- the fact remains that we do not know the long-term effects of social media on children and young people’s behaviour and mental health- and that can be extremely dangerous as they mature into adulthood.
By Meg Brierley