Does social media more help or hinder children?

Studies reveal that it makes a difference on their development and behaviour

It has been a common theme for awhile that misuse of the internet enhances or causes psychological and social problems for users, especially children and adolescents. But when someone in a company inside the industry reveals that these damages are deliberate to generate profit, this is a red flag. After all, does social media more help or hinder children?

At the end of 2021, an American computer engineer Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager at Facebook just months earlier, revealed to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), based on thousands of documents collected at her work, that the Instagram app, which belongs to Meta, has been proven to cause depression and anxiety in teenagers, especially girls (due to increase in using the social media), while the company has done nothing to impede or prevent it, since making profit is the driving force for the company.

Among other statements in Facebook’s internal documents was that “32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” that the company worsens “body image problems in 1 in every 3 teenagers” and that “teens blame Instagram for increased anxiety rate and depression”.

More mental risks

A University of San Diego (USD) study revealed that there are harmful effects in social media on young people’s feelings about their appearance and that “social media platforms can increase the risk of eating disorders and other mental health issues such as depression and a low self-esteem, according to its author, psychologist Jean Twenge, who has been conducting studies with young people since the 1970s.

Jean Twenge revealed that hospitalizations for self-harm tripled among girls aged 10 to 14 years between 2009 and 2015 and that depression increased by 60% in adolescents in both sexes, aged 12 to 19 years, between 2009 and 2017. Social media became more popular among children and adolescents between 2009 and 2010.

According to a survey by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br), 82% of Brazilian children and adolescents between 7 and 9 years old (about 22 million) use social media. In the United States, the proportion is 90% of adolescents between 13 and 17 years old who have some social media profile.

A report in The Atlantic magazine, also from the United States, talking about the USD study, showed that drug dealers, people involved in human trafficing, and pedophiles, use methods to circumvent the social media security algorithms to attract more victims, without Facebook actually fighting it. But both this research and another carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom clarified that social media can have benefits if used within limits, supervision and in a positive way.

Realistic limits

Jean Twenge says in her study that “if a child is obsessed with his electronic device and is not interested in anything else, he cannot respect boundaries. If it nterferes with studying, sleeping and relationships, parents and guardians have a problem.” According to her, children and teens who may be experiencing depression and anxiety may be trying to alleviate symptoms on the screen, which leads parents not to know about the problem and not seek treatment in time.

That’s why the USD psychologist advises realistic limits on content and time for using social media – good old-fashioned parental supervision. And, most importantly, that adults lead by example.

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