Action Mental Health knows that life today largely revolves around social media, the internet and our smart phones with their seemingly endless digital possibilities. We do our shopping, banking and countless other things online and it is hard to get away from its far-reaching fingers finding their way into our personal pots whether we like it or not.
The same goes for children: they socialise with friends online, follow social media memes and trends and many of them find their daily entertainment on sites like YouTube, leaving the television to their parents’ old skool ways.
Children often depend on the internet for their schooling, with some of the patterns of their education that had to be adapted during the lockdowns, like Google Classroom, still in use today. For many parents, it seems their children’s lives are intrinsically tied to an intangible online world with tethers that can’t be severed.
Just as it is for adults, using the internet can be an enjoyable experience where we connect with loved ones and friends, but likewise, it can become unhealthy when we spend too much time in the digital world, at the expense of the real one.
It can become especially unhealthy for young people when you consider the particular issues they can face as a result of being online, whether through social media or online gaming. Children who spend too much time on either can end up feeling socially withdrawn, face online bullying and negative peer pressure; they can fall prey to sexualised communications (sexting) and be targeted by sites which promote eating disorders, self-harm and suicide and sexual grooming.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation named gaming as a mental health disorder under gaming addiction. Gaming in children and young people has become more of an issue over the past few years with an increase in playing inappropriate games which have violent content, like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto which are both age 18 rated games. Fortnite (rated age 12) is one of the most common games played by children of primary school age and has associated popular dances (The Floss).
Gaming addiction could include a child or young person socially withdrawing from friends and shutting themselves away from family, along with gaming for long periods of time, losing interest in other hobbies and a change in sleep, eating, mood and behaviour.
Some tips for parents on gaming and social media usage
Below are a number of very useful and important resources to help your child navigate the internet more safely: