Children’s wellbeing is a much discussed topic. The annual Good Childhood Report (https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/the-good-childhood-report-2017_full-report_0.pdf) often makes bleak reading, with children’s happiness in 2017 at its lowest level since 2010. Many children face multiple problems in their lives, with issues such as poverty, crime and unsettled home lives all having an impact on children’s happiness. Much is written about the impact of social media on children’s wellbeing nowadays. Social media use is ubiquitous in teenagers’ lives with increasingly younger children connecting with others through these means. A new report has been released by the Children’s Commissioner into social media use among children between the ages of eight and twelve https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Childrens-Commissioner-for-England-Life-in-Likes.pdf.
The report makes recommendations for government, schools and those providing social media sites. The report calls for compulsory digital citizenship lessons in schools that will, ‘help all children develop their digital literacy skills and to improve their digital resilience’ (p. 38). The report does not suggest at what age this should become compulsory but highlights the needs of children in Years 6 & 7, ‘the age at which social media can begin to dominate day-to-day life. Lessons around online safety learned at younger ages are insufficient to prepare children for the ‘cliff edge’ around the time of transition to secondary school’ (p. 38).
The government’s role in supporting parents with these issues was also highlighted, with recommendations for effective guidance that would, ‘Highlight the positives and negatives of social media use for children as young as 8 to improve parents’ knowledge and confidence. This should include advice to parents about how they can talk to their child about their use of social media…’ (p. 38). The advice for schools was to address in lessons, the direct and indirect ways that social media can have an impact on people’s wellbeing. It also called for schools to provide opportunities for children to learn from each other about online behaviours.
The report highlights the extensive use of social media sites by children under the age of thirteen and calls upon social media companies to take more steps to address this, ‘If social media companies maintain that their services are not suitable for under 13s then it is important they address this underage use through closer and more rigorous moderation’ (p. 39).
Emma Goto is a senior lecturer in primary education at the University of Winchester.