The spread of social media as the main channels of communication among people of different ages, races, and social statuses is a consequence of massive digitalization and the emergence of numerous online interaction platforms. Access to these services, as a rule, is open to any Internet user, which makes virtual communication free and open. At the same time, despite its convenience, social media is often associated with problems and negative impacts on specific aspects of life. One of the pressing issues is to assess the right of children’s access to these virtual communication resources. Despite some of the advantages of such interaction, for instance, educational opportunities, the lack of control from adults can become the drivers of health and socialization problems among young users. Partially limiting children’s access to social media is an objective solution to protect the younger generation from negative psychological influences and health issues and help children develop valuable interpersonal skills in real life.
Negative Effects on Health
Children’s and adolescents’ inability to conduct full-fledged communication in real life due to constant interaction in the online space is fraught with health problems caused by impaired emotional and psychological development. According to Hoge et al. (2017), the prolonged use of social media leads to the development of anxiety in children and hinders the normal development of their emotion-regulation skills. The authors cite the research data on the impact of frequent communication on one of the most popular social networks and note that the more children spent time on Facebook, “the more their life satisfaction decreased over time” (Hoge et al., 2017, p. S77). In conditions of unlimited access to virtual communication, young users cannot appreciate the whole range of negative implications on their psycho-emotional state. As a result, incorrect behavioral markers adopted during the online interaction process can lead to the development of severe mental disorders.
Social media are often the platforms that children and adolescents use to escape an annoying and problematic reality. As Hoge et al. (2017) state, depressive disorders in young Internet users often develop against the background of a long stay in the online space, when social media is the only tool for regulating moods. This emotional regulator is dysfunctional and cannot be associated with healthy behavioral drivers. Thus, unrestricted control over the use of social media by children and adolescents may be the consequence of severe health problems in the young population, which, ultimately, affect their psycho-emotional development in adult life.
Social Media and Child Cyberbullying
The formation of healthy self-perception begins at an early age, and aggressive and negative impacts on the child’s psyche are fraught with significant challenges with socialization and adaptation to adult life. One of the manifestations of such influences is cyberbullying, a phenomenon that causes alarm for many psychologists and parents. Craig et al. (2020) conduct a large-scale cross-country study and noted threatening statistics associated with aggressive forms of communication in the virtual space. The authors examine the main stereotypes about cyber victimization and note that although girls are more likely to be bullied online than boys, the gender dimension of the issues is not central to addressing the problem (Craig et al., 2020). The inability to respond to any insults or bullying adequately due to immature communication skills and weak psychological background creates anxiety in children and affects their socialization negatively. Therefore, uncontrolled access to social media is a potentially dangerous factor that can lead to disorders of self-perception in young Internet users.
Children and adolescents are rarely willing to trust adults with their worries and concerns, and cyberbullying as a social phenomenon cannot be overcome without the intervention of a more emotionally mature audience. Craig et al. (2020) remark that for parents, educators, and other stakeholders, addressing the problem under consideration is possible through controlling the access of the younger generation to social media to minimize aggression in online communication. Otherwise, many young users may face problems in adulthood caused by the inability to respond adequately to peer bullying. Thus, unrestricted access to virtual interaction can be dangerous due to the impact on the psycho-emotional state of children and transform their self-perception for the worse.
Social Media and Disrupted Socialization
Despite the fact that initially, social media were created as platforms for convenient online communication, the expansion of their application by different users, including children and adolescents, have turned these resources into resources influencing the formation of socialization skills. Ibáñez-Cubillas et al. (2017) argue that virtual media sites have become environments in which peers adopt one another’s habits and behaviors. At the same time, too much time spent on social media is negatively associated with the process of socialization because the inability to adapt the acquired knowledge about the principles of interpersonal interaction in real life inhibits adolescents’ and children’s interest in communication with peers outside the Internet. As a result, this social gap manifests itself in interaction difficulties in new social environments, for instance, schools or colleges, and leads to the isolation of the younger generation.
Addressing the issue of children’s impaired socialization by expanding control over their access to social media is a potentially effective step to stimulate the target audience’s interest in interacting with peers in real life. According to Ibáñez-Cubillas et al. (2017), adopting one another’s behaviors and attitudes can be a beneficial factor in creating positive incentives and motivating young Internet users to develop healthy social interaction skills. Nevertheless, in conditions of children’s uncontrolled access to social media, the coordination of this issue is impossible, which, in turn, may complicate the normal development of society.
Potentially Positive Impacts
Despite the aforementioned problems that unrestricted access to social media causes for children, the possibilities of online communication platforms can be beneficial. For instance, as Cole et al. (2017) note, in some cases of childhood mental disorders, these resources can help both children and their parents receive the necessary emotional and informational support from caregivers and other families in which such problems exist. Akram and Kumar (2017) highlight the benefits of social media for distance education and knowledge sharing through such sites. However, without proper adult supervision, these benefits are unlikely to be fully realized. Therefore, despite the potential positive impacts, control over children’s accounts is a desirable practice.
In view of the problems that children’s unrestricted access to social media carries, in particular, health issues, cyberbullying, and socialization challenges, restricting the free use of virtual communication sites is a logical solution. For the formation of valuable skills of interpersonal interaction in real life and obtaining the necessary knowledge about emotional and behavioral development factors, control over the accounts of young Internet users has potentially favorable outcomes. At the same time, under adult supervision, the use of social media by children can have positive implications due to education opportunities and peers’ and caregivers’ support.
Akram, W., & Kumar, R. (2017). A study on positive and negative effects of social media on society. International Journal of Computer Sciences and Engineering, 5(10), 347-354. Web.
Cole, L., Kharwa, Y., Khumalo, N., Reinke, J. S., & Karrim, S. B. (2017). Caregivers of school-aged children with autism: Social media as a source of support. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(12), 3464-3475. Web.
Craig, W., Boniel-Nissim, M., King, N., Walsh, S. D., Boer, M., Donnelly, P. D., Harel-Fisch, Y., Malinowska-Cieslik, M., Gaspar de Matos, M., Cosma, A., Van den Eijnden, R., Vieno, A., Elgar, F. J., Molcho, M., Bjereld, Y., & Pickett, W. (2020). Social media use and cyber-bullying: A cross-national analysis of young people in 42 countries. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(6), S100-S108. Web.
Hoge, E., Bickham, D., & Cantor, J. (2017). Digital media, anxiety, and depression in children. Pediatrics, 140(S2), S76-S80. Web.
Ibáñez-Cubillas, P., Díaz-Martín, C., & Pérez-Torregrosa, A. B. (2017). Social networks and childhood. New agents of socialization. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 237, 64-69. Web.