It has been described as a ‘hidden epidemic’.
It is time to bring it into the open.
The ‘it’ in question is the impact that social media, video games, image sharing platforms and digital communications in other forms are having on children and adolescents and, in particular, their mental health.
Think for a moment about cyberbullying and sexting. Consider the websites advocating anorexia and self-harm.
These are all things that, until quite recently, didn’t exist. Yet all are, to a certain degree, fast becoming commonplace.
‘In the past, if you were being bullied, it might just be in the classroom,’ explained the Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston this week. ‘Now it follows [you] way beyond the walk home from school. It is there all the time. For some [young people] it’s clearly a new source of stress.’
Dr Wollaston – a GP for 24 years prior to becoming a politician in 2010 – chairs a Commons Health Select Committee that has, in recent times, been investigating such issues.
In their findings, the Committee has reported that, during the last 12 months, the number of children referred to mental health services has risen by a quarter.
There might be other contributing factors, but there seems to be little doubt that our digital culture, and everything that it involves, is the main culprit. The Commons report talks about children being ‘bullied into a state of despair’ on social media and suggests that EVERY hour adolescents spend online threatens to damage their emotional state.
Leaders at Young Minds – the mental health charity – have, in response, spoken about the additional stress children and teenagers face these days, whilst the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has claimed that the failure to address the issues has made it a ‘hidden epidemic’ that poses a significant risk.
This might be under discussion in the Commons, but boil it down and this isn’t just a political issue.
Yes, funding could be increased. Yes, education could be improved.
But on the ground, at home, there are simple steps that can be taken to minimise the risks and keep young people safe.
Have rules and stick to them. Limit time spent online. Make bedrooms screen-free zones. Keep an eye on things. Discuss the dangers.
In the main it’s common sense, but (in our opinion, at least) not enough people understand the risks enough to take them seriously. Do a little research some time. Look up cyberbullying. Learn about sexting. Check out the self-harm sites, they’re not hard to find.
Is YOUR child anxious? Is depression setting in? Could there be a link?
Talk these things through. Dialogue is always important so keep communication lines open. Encourage activities that aren’t online. It all starts at home.
The latest research suggests 55% of boys spend more than two hours a night online and, using figures taken from Childline, shows an 87 per cent rise in the number of those receiving counselling for online bullying over the last 12 months. Could this be a coincidence? The evidence suggests not.
This is something that should concern us all.
It is an epidemic, but it can remain hidden no longer.
It’s time to bring it into the open.
Before it spreads beyond control.
* Concerned about YOUR child and the issues discussed in this post? Contact CPUK on 07733 274522.