Impact of Social Media on Children: The Downside

The debate of pros and cons of social media exposure for children has picked up pace and intensity during the lock down as parents are now forced to relax screen time restrictions for children. It is a common perception that social media does more harm to younger kids and adults than offering benefits. In order to secure children from getting affected by the downside of social media, it is imperative to understand both sides of the argument and then devise a plan of action.
Read More: Impact of Social Media on Children: The Upside

Disadvantages of Social Media for Children

While social media provides several benefits in emotional, academic and social growth of children, it has many disadvantages too and some are of serious concern for parents. Based on several studies by researchers around the globe, following aspects can be considered as significant downsides of social media forums for children:

  • For younger children belonging to primary and middle schools, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are main sources of social media. Research shows that for children of this age, one of the foremost downside is the accessibility to violence, and explicit and offensive graphics, videos and written content. Even with several filters on, there is no restriction on material posted by individuals from their accounts. Moreover, the google algorithm works differently for people sharing same network which can mix the adult and child restricted content. This can have far greater and negative impact on young children compared to adults.
  • Social media forums are often referred to as main cause of mental suffering and depression in younger children and teenagers. The constant feeds, colorful graphics, intense noises and fast paced interface of social media forums are major cause of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression and anxiety, low self-esteem and social isolation. Since social media becomes the main form of socialization for children, any lack of attention in form of likes or reduced messages affects their moods badly. Moreover, the need for constant updates from their community also causes snap behaviors in younger children, a feature that was often associated with teenagers. This link is also verified by several psychologists who consider mental disorders in children and teens highly related to their exposure to technology.

Read More: Ask the Child Psychologist: Learning, Behavior and Emotions of Preschoolers

  • Screen addiction is one of the most crucial factors in use of social media for children. Whether it is videos, games, social networking, Instagram updates or any other social forum, kids have a tendency to become addicted to screens for the artificial stimuli of satisfaction and connectivity. The screen addiction’s major reason is the dopamine that is released in brain during screen time, giving temporary pleasure. However, an extensive study by several psychologists and neuro-physicians found grave concerns for children and teenagers who use too much social media and games. Some of the physical impacts of social media can be:

Gray Matter Shrinkage: Decline in planning, prioritizing and executing functions.

Compromised White Matter Integrity: Slows cognitive and emotional functions.

Impaired Dopamine Function: Impair brain structure and function, leading to poor academic performance and extreme mood swings.

  • Social Isolation is becoming a major psychological issue in children younger than teens. Even before the lock down, children who extensively used social media forums, were prone to become socially isolated and loners. While introverts can find an avenue of social connection through social media, extroverts are found to feel more socially distant. Seeing fun activities of friends with family or friends, or leisure trips can develop a notion among children that everyone is enjoying and connecting to people and they lack that socializing or fun trips. This in turn can make them feel lonelier and less willing to connect face to face with people.
  • Cyber stalking and bullying is another major concern that is more prevalent due to use of online games for which children use social media forums like Facebook to keep in contact with people of same community. If left unattended, children are more vulnerable to falling in trap of strangers to share personal information which can lead to harm to them or their families.
  • The obsession of young adults and teenagers with social media forums specifically Instagram and Facebook is a well-known phenomenon. However, now, as young as 10 year old children have started making social media accounts. Younger children are more prone to become self-centered individuals and to some extent narcissist as they think the whole world revolves around them. The need for likes and reactions can be even more dangerous for children in primary years as they already need extra attention of teachers and parents and diverting their focus to social media accounts can be devastating for their self-growth.

Given these disadvantages, there is a stringent approach required by parents for monitoring use of social media by children.

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