Children and social media: Is social media teaching children to “selfie harm”?

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Unless you have been living under a rock of late, you will have noticed that the dark side of children and social media has been reaching dizzying heights in the news, amplified by the recent tragic suicide of 14 year old Molly Russell who took her life after having been fuelled by self harming images made accessible by the social media giants.

Selfie Harm

I therefore couldn’t ignore what was staring me in the face on the front cover of the Sunday Times this weekend just gone – portraits of “Selfie Harm“. The contrasting pictures which were shouting loud at me are part of a project by British photographer Rankin entitled Selfie Harm, that illustrates the power of social media. The pictures are of teenagers –  he then asked the subject matters to edit the images until they felt they would cut it on platforms like Instagram. It’s like looking at every single one through a filter.

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Filter this!

Now I have to say, I have played around with filters – but the difference here is, I have the fully formed brain of an adult – not that of a developing, vulnerable teenager which is still trying to figure out how they fit into the world. Is it any wonder that teen mental health is at crisis point in the UK with one in ten children now affected by mental health problems? 

Tell me that there isn’t a correlation between this the fact that British teenagers are amongst the world’s most extreme internet users, and I’ll be a very happy lady.

selfie harm

Changing brains

This also leads me on to talk about a book I’m currently reading called Offline, which dives deep into the digital manipulation and addictive mechanisms which are at the heart of social media. A must read by anyone reading this concerned about all of this to any degree.

One of the key messages in this book is just to what extent social media is rewiring our brains. And you know what? I can almost handle that for adults. But for children and teens, whose brains are still developing? That is a frightening prospect indeed.

Time to wake up

Are we really going to continue sleep walking into this. Sure, there are age restrictions for social media, but I’m sorry – I just don’t think that 13 as a minimum age is high enough – plus let’s not forget that under age use of social media is on the rise with half of children aged 11 and 12 owning a social media profile.

Can we also reflect on the age limit for other addictive pursuits in the UK? 18 for alcohol unless accompanied by an adult in which case it can be 16 or 17, 18; 18 for smoking and also gambling.

And change

When there is so much at stake when it comes to children and social and young people’s mental health and well-being, I think a serious review of policy needs to be undertaken. Drawing comparisons from the pharmaceutical industry, before a drug is deemed suitable for patients, it has to go through rigorous testing. The research and development journey of those new drugs that make it to market will have taken around 12 years and cost around £1.15bn.  Probably far fewer people are using those drugs than are using social media.

Social media seemed to crash into our lives with very little thought or analysis until it was too late, and quite frankly, we seem to be waking up to this all late.

I think the time has come for the powers that be to take action  – the warning signs can’t be ignored any longer. I think they owe it to us and our children to undertake some in depth reviews and make some serious changes.

When it comes to children and social media, since when did handing over the mental health and well-being of our children and future generations to Silicone Valley ever seem like a good idea anyway?

What are your thoughts on children and social media? I would love to hear if you agree with any of this by leaving a comment below. And if you do please do go ahead and share this because no change ever happened when people kept quiet.

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All images courtesy of Rankin

10 comments

  1. It’s actually scary as an adult to see how the world is changing and not for the better. It is so easy for children to filter their appearance online. Its sad that they think they have to but sadly my teen does the same and so do all her friends. It’s the ‘in’ thing. Big changes need to be made and soon!

  2. Don’t buy your kid a smartphone and don’t let them use computers until they are 12. Teach your kid to be pro-active, go to the library, into the woods, handcraft your own toys, play music, paint, invent role-playing games, shoot your own short films. Love yourself and love them, let them play with a lot of other kids and adults.

    Then they will handle social media way better then we do, without having to read “Offline”..

  3. My eldest at nearly 13 uses Instagram and Snapchat. She used to use filters etc and take lots of pouty selfies. She seems to not be as bothered anymore as she is hanging out with new friends. But I hate it. My middle daughter is 11 and has only just got a phone although she only uses it for TikTok to make funny videos. I have a niece who is 15 and has self harmed too, whether social media is to blame for that I don’t know.

  4. It’s all really frightening. My eldest is only 8 and doesn’t have a phone yet, but I do worry. I think the girls all look more beautiful in their original photos – especially the second girl looks like a cartoon caricature in the filtered photo.

  5. This is such an important topic to talk about it. I think that social media has a huge impact on what we class as ‘pretty and attractive’ and it is such a shame that so many don’t realise that these photos are usually heavily edited.

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