Excessive use of internet harms children’s mental health

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Government health advisers have warned that excessive use of the internet is causing mental health problems in children. They state that the children are placed at higher risk in line with the number of hours spent online.

It causes children to face mental and social issues, such as depression, low self-esteem, increased aggression, loneliness and anxiety.

Public Health England has pointed out the relationship between sites such as Facebook and lower levels of well-being in children. The link is particularly clear when children spend in excess of four hours per day on the web, but it can be activated at lower levels of use as well.

The organisation has submitted reports to MPs warning that the massive improvements in the well-being of children over the past 20 years may be in reverse right now.

It states that one in ten children has a mental health problem and around 33% of teenagers experience feelings of sadness and depression at least once during a normal week.

The chilling factor about this is that around 750000 teenagers believe that they have nothing to live for. The report indicates that there has been an increase in the number of calls to Childline about suicidal thoughts, self-harm and online bullying.

PHE has suggested that parents should be concerned about the state of their child’s mental well-being if they spend more than four hours in front of their computer screen each day.

The evidence indicates a ‘dose-response’ relationship, where each hour of viewing raises the child’s likelihood of experiencing socio-economic problems and places them at risk of lower self-esteem.

Social media sites like Facebook have received criticism about their lack of age verification. Under 13-year olds are not supposed to gain access to Facebook, but age is not checked when signing up. This has prompted campaigners to warn that children may be exposed to paedophiles.

The PHE dossier has been passed on to the Commons health select committee that is in the process of an inquiry into adolescent and child mental health in the UK.

The report indicated that between 2006 and 2010, the number of young people playing computer games for at least two hours a night went from 42% to 55% for boys and 14% to 20% for girls.

In excess of 85% of children aged over 13 are now active on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.

It stated that exposure to media and increased screen time could be linked to increased feelings of loneliness, aggression and contact problems. Certain online activities, such as social network sites and multi-player online games, have been linked to lower well-being levels.

In another report, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said that the social medial sites were targeting young people who are vulnerable and exposing them to the dangers of being exploited sexually.

Dr Maggie Atkinson has placed emphasis on the increase in the numbers of under-18-year-olds who are being admitted to adult psychiatric institutions.

Image Credit: Jim Sneddon

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