After a recent internal social media report was made public, detailing the negative impact social media sites like Instagram has on its younger users, it becomes clear that the repercussions of heavy internet are a good reason for these sites to implement more stringent age restrictions.
As journalist Damien Gayle wrote in The Guardian, “Among the most concerning findings was that among users who reported suicidal thoughts, 13 percent in the UK and 6 percent in the US traced them back to Instagram. Another transatlantic study found more than 40 percent of Instagram users who reported feeling 'unattractive' said the feeling began on the app; about a quarter of the teenagers who reported feeling 'not good enough' said it started on Instagram.”
With gadgets such as mobile phones and tablets in the hands of children as young as four, it is almost impossible to avoid children being regular internet surfers by the time they start school. The potential for developing addiction is one problem. A report from Metro found that children as young as 11 in the UK had actually been removed from their families because of serious addiction to their gadgets.
Another is the growing issue of social media bullying, which has intensified over recent years with youngsters opening accounts on sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Once there, they experience not only nasty online comments, but personal messages containing abuse. 62 percent of young users said they had received nasty, abusive private messages via their phones, according to Ditch the Label.
Bullying is not a new phenomena in any environment. But before the advent of hand-held gadgets, a child experiencing abuse from his or her peers would, at the very least, have a certain element of escapism from their experience: by being in their home. Home being that refuge away from school and classmates, where closing the bedroom door meant a safe and steady silence against the challenges they faced from bullies. Now, with more and more children owning smartphones and tablets, those experiencing bullying are finding the situation unavoidable: the nasty comments and vile content prove inescapable as they carry the trouble with them, literally, everywhere they go. At home, at school, even out shopping, the internet has made bullying easier to do, and escapism from it ever more harder to obtain.
Worryingly, teen mental health issues and suicide has been reported as a result of social media. According to website Healio, in their article about the dark side of social media: “A study from 2015 found that the threshold for where kids start to have more mental health problems is the 2-hour mark. Teens who reported using social media sites more than 2 hours a day were much more likely to report poor mental health outcomes like distress and suicidal ideation....”
Website NCBI also reported that, “There are several specific ways that social media can increase risk for prosuicide behavior. Cyberbullying and cyber harassment, for example, are serious and prevalent problems.”
Exactly how such websites—and parents themselves—can help tackle this problem is a big issue, but clearly, things should not be left as they are. Children are drawn into, and highly engaged with, technology at a young age, and the strong benefits of social media with games, instant connection to family/friends and fun apps are all a part of modern life for children now. This cannot be denied. Are there logistical ways in which we can redefine young people's access to not only troubling material but also their exposure to online bullying?
It is time to raise age limits specifically to social media websites, not just as a limp statement, but something solid, something to actually able to be implemented and carried through.
As it stands, Facebook states that no one under 13 should register an account, yet how thorough is this as an intervention? How is such a rule applied to ensure it isn't happening? Is it being monitored at all?
Instagram, too, states that nobody under 13 should use the site, however a quick scroll through the pages there reveal users that, at the least, appear younger than this. In January, Ofcom stated that children as young as 11 were managing to open accounts on social media—and that many of these children were using the sites without parental knowledge.
With some of the explicit material available online—and the way some of these platforms are used to abuse and harass young users—could the time to consider raising the age limit to 16 be wise? By the age of 16, individuals have gone through their core school years, and have had a chance to learn, mature and gain more confidence in both themselves and their understanding of online communications.
Nobody wants to prevent usage of the internet. In truth, social media can provide benefits to its audience. Many people who regularly use their accounts have positive, engaging experiences, but for those who have faced trouble—even to the point of suicide—we owe it to them to open our eyes to each and every way we can help. We need to tackle the issue now, rather than waiting for more problems to arise, which seems to me an inevitability.