The impact of social media on children was the subject of discussion at the Biannual National Family Law Conference held in Melbourne recently, when I attended as a delegate.
The statistics revealed by a recent Australian study on the amount of media to which our children are being exposed on a daily basis, outside of their school work, indicated teenagers are exposed to nine hours of media use per day. Younger children are exposed to media use of around six hours a day outside their school work.
This media exposure — which includes listening to music, has introduced children to distractions not known in previous generations. In turn, this impacts on the ability to learn fully. Teenagers are brilliant at multi-tasking; listening to music while studying, diving between homework and video games or the latest Facebook post and Instagram/Twitter feeds. According to researchers the impact of this media exposure results in an inability to stay focused on a single task, and although exploring many areas, a shallow learning experience is the outcome.
Using computer screens at night impacts on sleep patterns — psychologists recommend getting the technology out of the bedroom, out where it’s easier for parents to monitor use and keep children safe. The blue light from digital media, including iPhones, laptops iPads and desktop screens, is a melatonin suppressant. It seems 74 per cent of Australian children use screen time between 9 p.m. and midnight. Our children are wired and tired. Their sleep is impacted on by digital equipment in a way not experienced in previous generations. One way of reducing the impact of exposure to blue screens is to install a program readily available such as justgetflux.com which adjusts the screen to the time of day, reducing the blue light exposure.
What about the impact of social media on children?
Digital age children use social media regularly to communicate with their friends. Facebook is the most obvious and prolifically used but there are other sites less well known to parents. Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter all are accessed regularly by children and are used by them to build relationships online. According to the research 57 per cent of teenagers meet friends online first. Social media or gameplay is the most common form of building relationships.
The statistics also show that 21 per cent of teenagers, particularly girls, feel worse after social media interaction. Feeling like someone else’s life is better than theirs.
In a highly sexualised society, the cult of celebrity worship, photoshopped images of impossible perfection and exaggerated voluptuousness, has impacted on young girls in particular, making them feel less confident with their bodies.
The impact of social media can also be felt by children whose parents are separated. More and more cases come before the Family Court where one parent has used social media to abuse and denigrate the other party. A child who is a Facebook friend of both parents, can be exposed quite easily albeit one hopes inadvertently, to this denigration. In more than one case, Facebook Messenger has been used by one parent seeking to subvert or undermine the other parent’s relationship with the child.
In a shared parenting arrangement, consider the child who’s contacted constantly by one parent, often late at night, while in the other parent’s care. In some very recent cases, parents have lost the care of their children through this kind of insidious and damaging behaviour.
In order to reduce the impact of social media on their children, families need to work together to set rules about internet usage that are applicable to their family’s needs and schedules. Setting rules about screen time and putting these in writing on the fridge, the children’s bedroom walls makes it clear in the family what screen time and usage is acceptable. Following these simple guidelines will help reduce the negative impact of social media on children.