SOCIAL media raises children’s risk of mental health problems by up to half, a major study suggests.
Social media use exposes teenagers to cyber-bullying, harms sleep and stops them exercising, the researchers warn.
Checking Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat weekly means the risk of suffering “psychological distress” is up to 20 per cent.
Logging in as little as four times a day can raise the danger by half again, the study of more than 10,000 children shows.
Teenage girls who check Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat weekly have a 20 per cent risk of psychological distress, it shows.
But for those logging on frequently — four times a day or more — the risk increases to 28 per cent, a rise of 40 per cent.
Boys on social media irregularly have a ten per cent risk of suffering mental health issues.
But it rose to 15 per cent in those who logged on several times a day — a jump of a half.
The findings come from the first major study look at how heavy social media use may damage mental health. It involved more than 10,000 English youngsters aged 13 to 16.
They say parents should not be endlessly telling children to get off their phones and tablets.
Instead, they should ensure children get eight to ten hours’ sleep and insist they exercise.
Lead researcher Professor Russell Viner, from University College London, said: “While we obsess a lot about social media, how much do we obsess about how much our young people sleep? Not very much.”
But with half of all mental illness starting before the age of 14, Dr Louise Theodosiou, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said social media giants must do more to protect kids.
She said: “We’ve seen a worrying rise in low mood and depression among girls and young women in recent years.
“This paper helps our understanding of the link between social media use and mental health problems.”
The findings are in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Expert tips for parents
- Control your own social media use
- Set clear boundaries for children especially if their sleep is suffering
- Take an interest and ask them who they are speaking to
- Keep screens out of bedrooms or set an evening curfew
- Ensure teenagers have at least ten hours’ sleep
- Encourage outdoor activity and spending time with friends
Case study: Megan Hinton
MEGAN’S life fell apart at 13 after she sent a naked selfie to a boy on Snapchat.
Within 24 hours most of her school had seen it. Megan said: “I had stuff thrown at me with the words slut and slag on them.”
The bullying led to self-harming, social isolation and not eating properly.
Megan, 20, from Hampshire, says Childline helped save her life. But she added: “I still worry the picture could resurface.”
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Case study: Felix Alexander
FELIX was 17 when he walked in front of a train after years of cyber-bullying.
He killed himself after being mocked online for not being allowed to play Call of Duty.
His mum Lucy, from Worcester, said he endured “cruel and overwhelming” taunts on social media from the age of ten.
She added: “People who had never met Felix abused him over social media. He found he was unable to make and keep friends.”
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Hector’s House, www.hectorshouse.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
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