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Left to their own devices: children’s social media and mental health

Using the internet and social media is an important part of life for children and young people 

It can be a positive opportunity to learn, to connect with friends and family and to have fun. However, internet use can also expose children to dangers, such as cyberbullying, online grooming and sexual abuse. At the same time, mental health conditions are on the rise with recent data showing that 1 in 8 children and young people between ages 5-19 in England have a mental health problem. 

What we do

We support 32,200 children, young people, parents and carers through specialist mental health services. Many of the children in our 1000+ services in the UK have suffered trauma and experience poor mental health.

You can get support from groups on Facebook, it can be quite a respectful place. When I did my CBT we had a support group and it’s like completely private and no one can see what anyone posts on it and we can write messages.

Young person

What we know

To find out more about the effects of social media on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, we gathered insight from 80 practitioners across more than 30 Barnardo’s services in the UK. 

Half of these practitioners responding said they had worked with children aged five to 10 who had been exposed to unsuitable or harmful materials online, and more than one third said children in that age group had been victims of cyberbullying.

When it comes to 11-15 year olds, 79% of practitioners responding said children they work with have experienced cyberbullying. Some practitioners highlighted that cyberbullying had led to self-harm and suicide. 

78% of practitioners responding also said they had worked with children in this age group who had been groomed online and 78% also said they'd worked with children in this age group who had accessed unsuitable/harmful content.

I had to delete Snapchat as I was getting bullied on it, people at my school were sending me death threats.

Young person

What needs to happen next?

At the moment, not enough is known about the impact of social media on the most vulnerable children in the UK. 

Javed Khan and Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Research
We’re calling on the Government to commission more research on the impact of social media to help establish a solid evidence base. This research should specifically include the experience of vulnerable children and young people.

Education
The Government should ensure that all children and young people are able to access education and guidance on social media use. Advice should also be available for professionals, parents and carers. 

Mental health support
A proportion of future funding for the NHS (as detailed in the NHS 10 Year Plan) should be used to deliver mental health support in all schools. 

Regulating the internet
The Government should make the internet safe for children, including the most vulnerable - by introducing duties on tech companies and specific guidance on dangers like cyber-bullying. 

You can read the full report below.