If you’re concerned about the amount of time your child spends on the internet, you may have good reason.
Children who spend hours surfing the web – and in particular, checking out social media sites – are more likely to have mental health problems.
An international report has found that when children devote four hours a day to staring at a screen, their chance of experiencing depression and anxiety soars.
But what is also alarming is that even low levels of use can lead to self-esteem issues and feelings of loneliness.
The report by Public Health England found a clear link between the amount of time spent on the internet, especially on social media sites, and “lower levels of wellbeing”.
“Children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression,” it says. “Every hour of viewing increases the risk of lower self-esteem and other mental health problems.
“Increased screen time and exposure to media is associated with reduced feelings of social acceptance and increased feelings of loneliness, contact problems and aggression.”
There are age restrictions on most social media websites – it’s 13 for Facebook – but no effective ways of checking users’ ages.
While many teenagers use social media with no problems, others are left feeling inadequate when they compare themselves with other people, and their self-confidence can plummet if they get very few “likes” on their posts. Negative comments can also have a big impact on their feelings about themselves.
What can parents do?
- Monitor how much time your child spends on their computer, smartphone or tablet. Set limits and be strict about enforcing them.
- If you need to get tough, there are programmes that offer parental controls, allowing you to disable internet access after a certain amount of time.
- Check your child’s history to see what websites they have been looking at.
- Make your child “friend” you on their social media site so you can see what’s being posted and get an idea if it’s likely to be affecting them.
- Watch for signs of depression and anxiety, such as becoming withdrawn and tearful, losing interest in hobbies, being irritable and changing their eating and sleeping habits.
In saying that...
The internet is not all bad. It offers many helpful resources for kids who have self-esteem problems or who feel depressed, such as Sparx – an online self-help tool for young people aged 12 to 19 who struggle with feeling low. Developed by staff at the University of Auckland and based on cognitive behavioural therapy, the award-winning programme teaches skills, such as how to cope with negative thoughts. See sparx.org.nz
Image: Sarah Callister/ bauersyndication.com.au