One in four children and young adults have experienced consistent stress as a direct result of social media use, and one in eight have experienced a form of panic or anxiety, new research has revealed.
The figures, for people aged between 10 and 19, have been released by national child behaviour expert Ross McWilliam, from Preston, whose research is based on his more than 20 years’ experience in the classrooms of the UK.
During that time he has worked in more than 1,500 educational institutions and helped change the lives of one million children, young people and professional adults.
He said unchecked social media use was creating a generation of children with stunted emotional development and the inability to communicate confidently face to face, with peers, and in particular with adults.
Ross, a former teacher, said some parents were to blame, setting a bad example with their own fixation with social media and their over-reliance on phones and iPads to keep children distracted and entertained in public places like restaurants, and even at the family dining table.
He said adult behaviour gave children an unhealthy sense of entitlement when it came to social media use.
He said: “Now in 2019, sadly after a number of suicides which have been directly attributed to negative social media and easy access to harmful content, a tipping point has finally been reached where action is needed to stop this unnecessary waste of life, and an impact on life that is stifling at best, and wholly detrimental at worst.
“The unfiltered access to various forms of social media opens up a whole host of issues which are having a negative effect on the mental health of today’s younger generation.
“The earlier the access, the greater the potential for longer lasting damage. Pupils don’t have the skills or experience to deal with cyber bullying, image comparison and or detecting fake news.
“Lower attention spans are being directly attributed to absorbing distracting media, and far too often, young children are spending far too much time per day in isolation, doing something that is potentially taking them away from academic, emotional and physical development.
“This is apparent in many social and professional settings where there is a dearth of confidence and appropriate soft communication skills.”
Ross said more and more pupils, parents and teachers are searching out quick fix solutions based around mobile devices to calm children, which may help short term.
He said that these strategies can be developed as children age, but without a focus on emotional development, consistent example led parenting, and behaviour management, the self-esteem and emotional confidence of children will not be developed effectively at this crucial age of their development into adulthood.
He said the issue was more common amongst girls and added: “The pressure to conform with peers seems to be higher amongst girls and young women.
“The use of social media, and in particular mobile phones, within this female cohort at this developing age, is giving rise to more problems than benefits.
“The need for peer approval in the midst of finding their own identity and achieving a sense of belonging is potentially making more young females isolated and is counter-productive in forming identity and belonging. This is borne out in the statistics from NHS Digital that found that almost twice as many young girls were vulnerable to stress than boys of a similar age.”
Ross advocated the actions of Katharine Birbalsingh, the head of Michaela Community School in north London, who has introduced the brick phone which has only basic functions to curb social media use and return the focus to the main objectives of school ie education.
He also backed the banning of smartphones for those under 13 which has been implemented in a number of forward thinking London schools.
He said: “There is a greater awareness of mental health issues, which is generally a good thing. But I am detecting that some of this heightened awareness might also be part of the problem.
“This is where a lack of resilience to work through challenges such as over-protective parents, and isolating behaviours, can conspire to create even larger mental health issues in the medium to longer term. This is a stark warning to parents, school educators and young children themselves.”
"Now sadly after a number of suicides which have been directly attributed to negative social media and easy access to harmful content, a tipping point has finally been reached where action is needed."