Schools urged to teach pre-teens social media 'resilience lessons'

  • Video: Three 12-year-olds explain why social media is indispensable

Pre-teen children are "ill-equipped" for the pressures of using social media apps and must be taught about their emotional impact as they transition to secondary school, the children's commissioner for England has said.

Under 13s face "an avalanche of pressure" and increasing anxiety over their online image with more and more using social media apps that are not designed for their age, according to a key study.

The Life In Likes report, published on Thursday, called for digital media companies to do more to stop younger children accessing their platforms.

And it recommended digital literacy and online resilience lessons for Year 6 and Year 7 students.

What were the key findings in the Life In Likes study?

The change in how social media is used between the ages of nine and 10, and up to 12 and 13, was most surprising, Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield said.

"What starts as fun usage of apps - children are using it with family and friends and to play games when they are in primary school - turns into an avalanche of pressure when children really are faced with a cliff edge of social media interaction when they start secondary school," she said.

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The change focuses around social pressure to be constantly contactable, with children noting how always being connected was a key expectation of their friendships, the report said.

Some Year 7 children described how receiving notifications, especially if there were a number of them, was distracting, time consuming and stressful to manage.

The Life In Likes study, involving eight groups with 32 children aged eight to 12, found the most popular social media platforms for the age groups are Snapchat, Instagram, and Whatsapp.

The commissioner said by the age of 11-12 most are likely to have a smartphone, with social media providing a way of children to pass judgement on each other and how they look, which can be "very negative".

"We know it is hugely damaging for children in terms of their self identity, in terms of their confidence, but also in terms of their ability to develop themselves as individuals," she said.

"So they are ill-equipped when they enter secondary school, and we'd like schools, and parents and social media companies to help them prepare for what that means emotionally."

Older children in the groups revealed the importance of wanting to emulate popular people, and expressed increasing anxiety over whether their posts would be liked.

"They want to look like the popular people online, and we see that that increases as they start to follow celebrities," she added.

"Then there is this push to connect - if you go offline will you miss something, will you miss out? Will you show that you don't care about those people you are following? All of those come together in a huge way at once.

"For children it is very, very difficult to cope with emotionally."

Talk to your children about what they like to do online, and who they are talking to. Credit: PA

How to keep your children safe online:

  • Talk

It’s important to start talking to your child about staying safe online at an early age. Keep conversations short but frequent.

  • Explore online together

Ask them to show you what they like to do online, and show an interest.

  • Know who they are talking to

Children may not think of strangers online as strangers – they may think of them as online friends. Explain it’s easy for people to lie about who they are online.

You can also become ‘friends’ with your child on social networks.

  • Agree boundaries

Set rules about when and for how long they can go online, the websites they can visit and how to treat people online.

Remind your children not to share personal or sensitive information online. Credit: PA
  • Check content is age-appropriate

Check the age ratings on the games they play or videos they watch, and make sure websites and social networks are suitable.

  • Use parental controls

Internet Service Providers provide controls to restrict content, and many electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones allow you to do the same.

  • Remind them about privacy

Make sure they are not sharing sensitive information online and tell them what to do if they are contacted by someone they don’t know.