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February 14, 2019

How is Technology affecting Young People’s Mental Health?

Have you thought about communication, interaction and behaviour changes caused by new technological advances? Are we prepared for these innovations? And the most important question, are we aware of how children and young people are using this technology?

Enormous amounts of information can now be accessed at the click of a button and online communication has become the norm for children and young adults. Statistics show that 56% of 8-12 year-olds have access to smartphones, increasing to 88% for 13-17 year-olds, 91% of whom also have access to the internet on multiple devices (tablets, smartphones and mobile devices). Surprising? Probably not for those of us who interact with these kids every day, but others may have been unaware of the impact that technology has on children and young people in our society.

Social media_Technology_ Mental health_ wellbeing

However, before judging the effects, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of the use of technology to determine the risks to young people and children.

The Positive and Negative Sides of Access to Technology

For inquisitive young people, the internet can be a great pool of free resources for learning and developmental purposes with countless interactive websites, forums and online courses. Many of them have the option to subscribe to different online courses, be part of groups for collaboration on projects, play video games with educational purposes and do activities where they can improve their social skills, express themselves and develop their creativity. In short, some kids really flourish online!

Online communities can also be a great comfort for children who are shy or socially anxious, because on these platforms they can make new friends with common interests, develop an individual identity and in turn create and share their projects and interests. Even computer games, which often get a bad press, can provide children with an online friendship group. In these groups, kids who might usually struggle to make friends in traditional environments can feel popular and supported, which is great for their mental and emotional wellbeing.

On the flip side, some platforms can have a negative impact on kids’ mental health and wellbeing. For example, many children and young people are exposed to content from fashion models, influencers and celebrities, who regularly upload photos of their unattainable body, clothes and lives on different social platforms. For young people this can be particularly damaging if these images are taken at face value without an understanding of the heavy editing that has gone on behind the scenes to create the glossy shots. Also, some teenagers then attempt to emulate these images themselves, focussing on physical appearance and creating and sharing superficial content.

Moreover, the never-ending stimulation caused by constant interaction with an onslaught of images and videos increases the desire to view other people’s content, which can gradually affect self-esteem. Young people who find themselves in this situation may use social media as a tool to present a polished image of their life, in a competition to be popular with their peers. This is increasing levels of stress and anxiety in the children and young people affected.

We now live in a world where technology and social media cannot be avoided, but rather than smash every electronic device within a 5 mile radius to our children, the key is to educate and guide children towards a responsible use of technology and social media. That’s why we have put together 9 tips for parents to share with their kids on how to have a better relationship with the internet.

9  tips to make the internet a helpful tool for mental health and wellbeing in children and young people

If you need more information about children and young people’s use of the internet and require professional consultation, there are some organisations specialized in internet use which provide advice and support to children, young people and parents. For more information, click the following link UK SAFE INTERNET CENTRE

We must recognise the importance of educating our kids in the use of new technologies so that we can keep them safe online. At the same time, we want to show them how to get the best out of technology and the ways in which it can contribute to their development and well-being.  Hopefully these tips can help you to find ways to achieve this balance with your kids.

* NHS. Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 
* CTIA Wireless Foundation.  Kids Wireless Use Facts.

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