Children seek ‘likes’ and comments to validate self-worth, new report reveals

A new report from Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield shows that many Year 7 children are finding social media hard to manage and becoming over-dependent on ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ for social validation. They also adapt their offline behaviour to fit an online image.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is launching a new report, ‘Life in likes’, on the impact of social media on the lives of children before they become teenagers.

Whilst most social media sites have an official age limit of 13 years, some research has suggested 3/4 of 10-to-12-year-olds have a social media account. Today’s report reveals many children are approaching a ‘cliff edge’ as they transition from primary to secondary school, with social media becoming much more important in their lives but causing them greater anxiety. The study suggests some children are becoming almost addicted to ‘likes’ as a form of social validation that makes them happy and that many are increasingly anxious about their online image and ‘keeping up appearances’.

Harry, 11, Year 6: “When you get 50 likes it makes you feel good cos you know people think you look good in that photo.

The study shows how social media is important for maintaining relationships, but this gets harder for children to manage at secondary school. Children are constantly contactable and connected, and being ‘offline’ or uncontactable is considered socially damaging.

Billy 9, Year 5: “When you get a buzz, and then you go to get it but you don’t. And then you get another buzz and another buzz, and another buzz. And then you’ve just got to go get it, and then you just go off course with your homework.”

Effect on body image and emotional development

Many children in Year 6 and 7 were regularly using Instagram and Snapchat, where they could follow adult celebrities, meaning their world is blurred with celebrities’, who lead very different lives to them. As these social media platforms are very image heavy, it was easy for children to compare themselves to the people they were following on social media. Some of the older children described feeling inferior to those on social media, showing that they were often making comparisons with people who they perceived to be better off than them in various ways.~

Aimee, 11, Year 7: “You might compare yourself cos you’re not very pretty compared to them.”

What actions need to be taken?

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“I want to see children living healthy digital lives. That means parents engaging more with what their children are doing online. Just because a child has learnt the safety messages at primary school does not mean they are prepared for all the challenges that social media will present. It means a bigger role for schools in making sure children are prepared for the emotional demands of social media. And it means social media companies need to take more responsibility.

“Failing to do so risks leaving a generation of children growing up chasing ‘likes’ to make them feel happy, worried about their appearance and image as a result of the unrealistic lifestyles they follow on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, and increasingly anxious about switching off due to the constant demands of social media.”

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