Social media has become a regular part of our childrens’ and teenagers lives today from exploring, gaming to making and maintaining friendships; it is a natural extension of their face to face interactions. However there are specific risks we should take cognisance of. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned regarding the potential negative effects of social mediain young kids and teens, including cyber-bullying and "Facebook depression."
The online world has become increasingly consuming and attractive for children and young people which can be a challenge for parents to keep track of. Social media creates the need to always be available; there is a lot of pressure for youngsters to be involved 24/7 and keep up with their peer group or they will be left out and socially excluded. This contributes to a growing culture of sleep deprivation among young children as they keep scrolling through their newsfeed even in bed.
Girls aged 8-13 years display a particularly gender-specific vulnerability especially around the onset of puberty. Body dissatisfaction peaks during this period and girls tend to worry much more than boys, experience more teasing around weight and shape and perceive more pressure from friends and family to be thin. Evidence suggested girls start to become anxious and become sensitive to criticism about their physical appearance from the age of 10 years. These are definite triggers for distress and evolve into mental health problems such as depression and self harm. Many of the teenage girls we see at the Centre for Sexual & Mental Health, tell us that they face a huge range of pressures. At such a time they may seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares on social platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram.
They are constantly bombarded with images of ‘perfect’ bodies or ‘perfect’ lives and end up making false comparisons. This can have a damaging and even destructive effect on the girls’ mental well being. Body dissatisfaction can also lead to unhealthy weight control behaviours like skipping meals and smoking cigarettes using laxatives and diuretic pills in an attempt to attain the desired look.
Children and young people can go to great lengths at hiding feelings from their parents, often because they may feel ashamed or embarrassed and are unsure about how to start the conversation and communicate how they’re feeling. By the time parents come to realize that these issues exist,they are often at their wits end, blaming themselves for not finding out sooner how unwell their child was. Parents are also very quick to judge themselves when their child is suffering from such an issue. This can actually make matters worse for both . Although it is hard for a parent to cope with the fact that their child is suffering from mental health problems, it is important to understand that psychological illness in Indian teenagers has reached a crisis point and that these can now be resolved. Knowing that it’s okay to ask for professional help is really important. It is essential to know that you’re not failing your child and that you may not be able to do it all on your own.