To join most social networks – including WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook – you have to be at least 13 years old. Yet research increasingly reports, and most parents will recognise, that much younger children often sign up earlier.
Children are increasingly gaining independent access to the internet at a younger age. Ofcom’s latest research shows that 39% of 8-11-year-olds have their own tablet and 39% have their own smartphone. 94% go online, for nearly 13.5 hours a week, and 23% say that they have a social media profile.
Despite this, little to no research has been conducted to understand the impact – both positive and negative – that access to social media has at such a young age. In order to explore this, the Children’s Commissioner is currently conducting focus groups with 8 to 12-year-olds around the country. These groups will explore how young children understand and use social media, the role that it plays in their friendships, and how it features in their day-to-day lives and interactions to gain an understanding of the impact of social media on their mental health.
The Commissioner’s Growing Up Digital report, published earlier this year, made considered recommendations towards fostering a more supportive digital environment for children and young people to grow up in. It also recommended that social media companies take more responsibility for supporting and protecting the young children roaming their sites.
This new research, planned for publication in January 2018, will now provide us with a more nuanced understanding of the role that social media plays in the mental health of children who are often not yet old enough to be signed up.