Published on: 07 Jul 2017

The mental health difficulties faced by far too many children are heartbreaking and unnecessary

The impact of social media on children’s mental health

Of the many societal factors contributing to our current mental health crisis, the rise of social media is one that has attracted much attention. So, last week’s report from Emily Frith of the Education Policy Institute, ‘Social media and children’s mental health: a review of the evidence’, is both topical and essential. Emily’s credentials for writing this report are impeccable, so it should be taken very seriously. 

Although the report does focus to a degree on the numerous benefits of the social media boom, it still contains some alarming findings. For example, ‘Each additional hour spent online was associated with a negative impact on life satisfaction … 12% of children who spend no time on social networking websites have symptoms of mental ill health … the figure rises to 27% for those who are on the sites for three or more hours a day.’  Neither the internet nor social media are going to disappear, so the threat to mental health is clearly a dangerous one. Contributory factors include cyberbullying, oversharing, issues relating to body image, and harmful advice. Moreover, extreme internet usage in UK children is substantially higher than the EU average – and the policy challenge therefore proportionally greater – while technology will move faster than governments can ever keep up with, for example via livestreaming, which can have a significant negative impact on mental health since content can be reused without consent. 

I agree wholeheartedly with Emily’s recommendation that ‘the focus of public policy should be on how to develop resilience in young people to maintain their emotional and mental wellbeing’. Such a conclusion ties very neatly to some of our own assessments, which can play a vital role. In the wider context of a huge increase in the incidence of mental health problems in schools, alongside a huge decrease in the crucial external support that used to be relied upon, there is an important place for user-friendly tools for struggling teachers.

But as it happens, I also care about this subject a lot because of the adverse impact it’s had on my family. The mental health difficulties faced by far too many children are heartbreaking and unnecessary. So, I hope that this robust evaluation of the available evidence receives the consideration it deserves, and that meaningful change will result. 

By Tom Guy, SEND Publisher at GL Assessment

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