Social media can have mixed effects on children’s social skills, and overall feelings of connection and belonging. It certainly depends on the context and on whether online communication is replacing face-to-face interactions, but the internet can allow young people to join online communities of people who share similar interests as them. It also makes it easier to keep in touch with friends when they move away, or with family members on the other side of the world.
The internet makes it easier to access self-help resources, free and anonymous counseling services and motivational stories. This can help children to find support when they deal with problems they perhaps don’t feel comfortable talking about with someone face-to-face.
Children can find a lot of stimulating and educational content online. There are tutorials that explain difficult curriculum topics in a more accessible way, teach children how to play instruments or how to do arts and crafts. This is not only helpful for their academic success, but also allows them to explore their interests.
When a child gets caught up in an online chat or game, using devices in the evening might postpone their bedtime. Another problem related to smartphones and sleep is the brightness of the display. Staring at this bright artificial light can disturb the circadian rhythm and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
The Fear Of Missing Out – as the internet becomes an extension of their offline world, things that happen on social media also gain more importance. Children and young people might be anxious about staying offline for too long because they might miss out on conversations between their friends, trends and events. What happens on social media might be a hot topic at school the next day. That is why it can be hard to put the phone away.
In severe cases, excessive use of mobile phones can have a wide-reaching negative impact on a child’s life and a child might get angry when asked to stop. Research on this has suggested that intensive gaming could potentially affect the brain in similar ways as drugs do. Worth noting that there are contrasting views on calling excessive internet use an addiction, in fact, an internet or digital addiction is not an officially recognized disorder.
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Young people who digitally self-harm create a fake online account and use it to send hurtful messages to their real account. This phenomenon can also be called self-trolling or self-cyberbullying. It is assumed that this might be a cry for help and a way to acknowledge one’s own pain. The victim might be hoping for others to give them attention, offer support and compliments to fight “the bully”.
Many young people feel a need to post selfies of themselves. Likes and comments become an indicator of their attractiveness and impact their self-esteem. Instagram is flooded with pictures of edited perfect bodies and teenagers using filters to create the perfect selfie. This can create unrealistic expectations of beauty. There are also more harmful underground communities which promote eating disorders. But on the upside – online campaigns fostering body positivity are also becoming increasingly popular.