National news: Children as young as eight 'obsessed' with their image on social media

Children are using social media on their mobile phones at school
Children are using social media on their mobile phones at school
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Children as young as eight are talking about “looking hot” and comparing themselves to the celebrities they follow on social media, a new study has found.

A report by Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield, found children as young as eight are obsessing about ‘likes’ and become increasingly anxious about their online image as they hit secondary school.

An in-depth report looks for the first time at how interaction with social media affects the well-being of children aged eight to twelve.

Most social media platforms have a minimum age of 13, yet three quarters of those aged 10-12 have an account.

The study ‘Life in Likes’ found schools need to do more to prepare children for the ‘cliff edge’ of social media’s impact when they reach secondary school.

For some, social media “had come to dominate their day”.

Asked how much she used it, Bridie, aged 11, said: “Hmm, 24 hours in a day, so I probably use it 18 hours a day.”

Merran, aged 12, said: "At break time, we go into the loo that has wifi and use our phones there because there is nothing else to do.”

Children associated social media with feeling happy and actively used it to boost their mood. “You can just scroll to a funny video and forget about sad posts,” said Connor, aged 11.

The report said school children fixate on 'likes' and some had developed techniques they felt would give them more positive responses.

They would select activities that seemed the most ‘shareable’ – or look good on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The children’s commissioner conducted eight focus groups with 32 children for the study.

Many of the children described social media as a distraction that made them “go off course with homework,” lose friendships or obsess about negative comments for a week or more.

The study found children as young as eight talk about “looking hot”, comparing themselves to the celebrities they follow and wanting to wear designer clothes.

“Sometimes I think like they look really pretty, they look so much different to me,” said Hannah, aged 10.

Bridie, 11 said: “I saw a pretty girl and everything she has I want, my aim is to be like her. I want her stuff, her white house and her MAC makeup. Seeing her makes me feel cosy.”

Ms Longfield has recommended the introduction of digital literacy lessons in schools, with a focus on improving online resilience, from year 6.

She said: “While social media clearly provides some great benefits to children, it is also exposing them to significant risks emotionally, particularly as they approach Year 7. I am worried that many children are starting secondary school ill-equipped to cope with the sudden demands of social media as their world expands."

She added there is a risk of “a generation of children growing up chasing ‘likes’ to make them feel happy, worried about their appearance and image as a result of the unrealistic lifestyles they follow.”