SPECIAL REPORT: How our children are coping with life on social media

According to a report, children are finding social media pressure hard to manage as they enter secondary school age.
  • New study looks at growing pressure on 8-12 year olds

Love it or hate it - social media seems here to stay.

It’s become a part of our lives and a main form of communication now for many people.

Abi Tolson, who has created a social media guide at Thomas Cowley High School in Donington, with fellow students.

While the impact of social media on youngsters has been well-documented, a new report looks at the effects it has on children before they become teenagers.

The report by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield called ‘Life in Likes’ claims children are unprepared for a social media ‘cliff edge’ as they start secondary school.

It looks at the effect on children aged from 8-12, in particular, and finds that while eight to ten-year-olds use social media in a ‘playful and creative way’ - often to play games - this changes significantly as children’s social circles expand into Year Seven.

According to the report, many Year Seven children are finding social media hard to manage and becoming over-dependent on ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ for social validation.

My daughter started secondary school in September and she is now glued to her phone, which causes lots of arguments at home.

Mum of a Year Seven student

It says the pressure on their online image can be made worse when they start to follow celebrities and others outside close family and friends.

We spoke to parents, teachers and children to get their views on the report.

Eloise is ten years old. She uses Instagram and Snapchat. She likes playing games on her phone and FaceTiming her friends.

Her mum, Leeann, said: “She doesn’t feel pressure to use social media and can take it or leave it. She doesn’t think it affects her mood as she says she is not worried about who likes or doesn’t like her posts.

“We are very careful when using social media and Eloise knows the risks of having a public profile. We have turned her settings to private.

“She understands that she is not to accept a friend request from anyone she doesn’t know.

“The school enforces this too. At the moment, thankfully social media is just a bit of fun for Eloise and she is not bothered how many likes she gets on her posts or who actually likes them.

“It’s a nice way for her to keep in touch with friends and family who do not live nearby.”

But the parent of another child at a different school, who did not want to be named, said: “I don’t let my child go on social media as he is only ten but most of his friends are on it all the time.

“He tells me that lots of arguments at school are caused when people feel left out of conversations in the evening.

“Teachers are having to deal with it during his learning time which makes me very cross because parents should be doing more to supervise their children.”

Another parent said: “My daughter started secondary school in September and she is now glued to her phone, which causes lots of arguments at home.

“She gets down if I take it away from her because she doesn’t want to feel out of the loop with her friends.

“She is obsessed with being part of every conversation so she doesn’t get picked on the next day.

“I worry about the content as she is chatting with children much older than her.”

Andrew Raistrick, who is executive head teacher of primary schools Pinchbeck East Church of England, Spalding Primary and Surfleet, spoke about his views.

He said: “We cannot hide and pretend that social media does not exist.

“It is in the education sector to give children the tools to be able to use it in a positive way.

“Social media is in their lives 24 hours a day but it is about giving children the tools to be resilient - for them to be able to say ‘that is how I am and it does not matter what I look like; to have the self-confidence to be me.’

“It is also educating parents . They provide a role model to children when posting on social media.”

With the report particularly focusing on the effect social media has on children entering secondary school, one school has taken its own unique approach to make sure it’s a positive experience.

At the Thomas Cowley High School in Donington, a group of students, led by Abi Tolson in Year Ten, have produced a social media guide they call the ‘INNIT’ campaign.

Each student in the school has been given a business card copy of the guide. It reminds them:

‘I’ Illegal: Don’t send anything that is illegal, including pictures.

‘N’ Necessary: Do you really need to send it?

‘N’ Nan: Would your Nan be upset if she read it?

‘I’ Intelligent: Don’t post anything that makes you look stupid.

‘T’ Truthful: Don’t post lies.

○ Head teacher at the Thomas Cowley High School, Ian Dawson, said: “We are very aware of the pressure young people are facing in today’s society with the explosion in the usage of social media.

“We have already worked with our students to educate them about social media.

“In November, the school had a digital detox week where students and staff were encouraged to pledge to give up social media for a week.

“The initiative was inspired by a BBC article which claimed that 71% of teenagers had wished that social media had not been invented.”

In total, more than 300 students made a pledge to try to give up social media for at least a day. Over 60 students managed to go a full seven days without social media and were awarded a digital detox badge.

Abi, aged 14, uses Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

As part of the detox, she managed to give up social media for a week.

She said: “It was difficult. I felt I was missing out, especially as I did it in half-term.

“But after I got used to it I found I was talking to my family more and went out more.”

And since students produced the social media guide she said it has made people think more about what they post online.


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