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Children and social media don't mix

By Mal Fletcher - posted Friday, 4 November 2016

"Freedom," said Ronald Reagan, "is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."

This applies not simply to freedom of belief or expression; it is in many ways true of freedom from anxiety.

Yet, according to one of the leading children's charities in Britain, a rising number of pre-teens are experiencing symptoms of anxiety.


The NSPCC's Childline service announced this week that it counselled 11,706 young people for anxiety in 2015-16. This represented a rise of 35 percent on the number of children counselled for anxiety in 2014-15.

Children as young as eight years old are contacting the charity, citing a range of issues that cause them great concern. Those issues are no longer restricted to family concerns, or problems at school.

They include Brexit, the US election and the war in Syria – not the sorts of things you'd expect pre-teens to grapple with on any deeply emotional level.

Of course, a rise in levels of child anxiety might be expected if worry is to some degree a learned human response.

After all, recent surveys have suggested that indicators of depression or anxiety are on the rise within the adult population. Experts cite such likely contributing factors as work and education pressures, isolation as a result of the rise of 'always connected' social media, and financial pressures.

Doubtless, a range of concerns may be passed virally from parents to children, as a consequence of overheard conversations and the like. Yet even when parents do their very best to shield children, anxiety levels often still rise.


No small reason for this is the growing engagement of very young children with digital gadgets.

Social media represent a prime conduit for what children hear about global issues. Of course, technology is less to blame for the world's ills than human choices as to how we use technology. Social media has contributed much to our lives, allowing us to collaborate and communicate in ways that would have seemed scarcely imaginable a generation ago.

That said, social media has also opened the minds and hearts of children to new forms of bullying. It has also provided an often unfiltered pathway into the grimier side of life; the world of complex and often depressing human problems which even adults – and experts – struggle to understand.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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