Social media use and ‘being online’ seem to be part and parcel of modern living with UK teenagers have some of the highest rates of internet use in the developed world – something that has a strong link to lower levels of well-being.
But limiting children’s use of the internet will not protect them against the ills of social media, researchers say. The BBC reports that the Education Policy Institute study said restricting usage can prevent children gaining the digital skills and emotional resilience to keep them safe.
The report, written by the EPI’s Director of Mental Health, Emily Frith, said restricting a child’s use of the internet reduces the chances of children meeting difficulties online, but does not give them the skills to deal with problems they may run into at a later date.
“Restriction was also linked to the young person having a lower level of digital skills” she read, adding: “The research highlighted in this report indicates that restricting a young person’s access to the internet could inhibit the development of the skills needed to handle online risk.”
But research also shows that more than one-third of the UK’s 15-year-olds are classed as ‘extreme internet users’ – defined, by a study from the international think tank OECD, as someone who uses the internet for the equivalent of their whole evening online or more than six hours outside school on a typical weekend day.
The report said concerns were frequently raised about the potential effect on young people spending a great deal of time online and according to research from Ofcom in 2016, quoted in the study, it led to nearly eight in 10 (78%) young people (aged 16 to 24) being told off for doing this.
Seven out of 10 said they had missed out on sleep because of their online habits and 60% said they had neglected school work as a result. And 59% of those questioned by Ofcom said they felt they spent too much time on the internet, with a quarter saying they felt nervous or anxious when offline.
The EPI research highlighted that those spending large amounts of time on social networking sites were more likely to have symptoms of mental ill health, and that excessive internet use has been linked with depression.
It is well-documented that lack of sleep, stress, anxiety and depression can have a detrimental effect on our lives and, in particular, children while at school and in today’s world, about one in seven people is suffering from stress or anxiety at any one time in the UK. And while some people manage, more and more people are showing signs of over-anxiety, which leads to stress, which can make a significant impact on the quality of life and wellbeing.
Anxiety and stress can manifest itself differently for everyone but common physical signs of anxiety or stress include a racing heartbeat, butterflies in the stomach, nausea, sweating, panic attacks and insomnia. Common psychological signs of stress and anxiety include inner tension, agitation, a fear of losing control, irritability, feelings of detachment and phobias and fears. Anxiety can also manifest itself in different worries; it may be fear of being around other people, it may be anxiety in specific social situations, anxiety in your relationships with particular people at home, at school or at work.
A government spokesperson said the internet had given young people wider opportunities to increase their knowledge, but helping them to deal with the risks they face online is vital. He said: “Cyber bullying and staying safe online are key parts of Relationships and Sex Education, which we are making mandatory. We are also helping schools to spot mental health problems and respond in the right way by offering mental health first aid training for a member of staff in every secondary school.”
And Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told the BBC industry, schools and families should all rise to the challenge of social media.
“What will jump out to parents is the link between excessive social media use and a greater chance of mental health issues,” he said.
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