Now more than ever, children have great amounts of access to social media and this has led to an escalation of need for attention due to mental health issues mounting with major risks posed to their well-being.
It is no secret that many children’s bedrooms today are furnished with the latest technology, but what is it that makes this deeply troubling? For starters, as people transition to their adult life they do not know how to socialise beyond texting and living in their own imagination, which research has proven to be heavily influenced by the media that they consume. As a teenager, I often find that such is the case with people my own age, but I can only imagine what will happen to young children whose time is primarily spent on platforms such as TikTok and YouTube. It is indeed, very problematic.
Today, children’s lives are often dominated by use of social media by which they life vicariously through other children’s experiences. They watch other children playing with toys and having fun, tainting their own childhood learning experiences as well as forming unstable friendships. It is a matter of trying to be someone other than themselves to the point where their minds are controlled by that of content creators, regardless of whether or not this is a subconscious act on their part.
Living in the midst of a pandemic has allowed for such access to media to be increased, and not enough people have taken to social media to address the severity of its use for young children. They use social media with their thought processes revolving around how they might try to achieve unrealistic beauty standards or mannerisms that they ‘should’ have. Such a mindset is poignant to witness, particularly when it comes to the troubling effects of mental health issues as a result. Perhaps much of this is to do with exposure to the digital world from infancy, studies have found. Many children are given phones and tablets, but many do not realise that childhood is being snatched from children; they are forced to grow up much more quickly in a way that induces them to see appearances where they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed them.
Watching other people, behind their own screens, is equally very worrying. Children look to YouTube influences and see other children advertising toys, creating a desire for compulsive buying. In 2019, YouTube child star, Ryan Kaji, was reported to have been the highest earning influencer across the platform, earning $26 million dollars for advertising toys and playing games online. Starting his channel at just 3 years old, the world did not suspect an avalanche in subscription to this channel. Now, many speculate the negative effects channels like this will have not only on children globally, but also on YouTuber’s like Ryan. A Washington Post report from 2018 spoke about the detrimental effect of children receiving negative comments online. However, many fail to discuss the number of individuals who are looking at these children, sexualising or attempting to groom them and, even, those who send them threatening messages.
Many adults believe that it is the responsibility of social media, that children today do not want to leave their homes or to do something with complete detachment from screens. The number of reports that discuss such physical health issues and consequences are innumerable, yet nothing appears to be changing. Recent research finding that most children receive smartphones by the age of 7. Simon Leggett, a research director at Childwise, says, “It can be a challenge to monitor what your child is accessing online because it’s such a private technology that most keep, literally, close to their chest.”
There is debate as to who is most responsible for social media addiction. Either way, it is fair to argue that more can be done to restore childhood to children who are missing out on valuable experiences; those that are authentic to them and which do not cause such negative effects unnecessarily. Few have even gone so far as to mention that social media today is a disease for which there is no cure, but with optimism children can slowly be removed from constant living in the digital world.