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Social media ‘putting young teens’ mental health at risk’

Average child opens their first account at age 12

Children who use social media platforms before the age limit have a greater chance of suffering from mental ill-health, a survey shows. 

The study by Bupa UK into the mental wellbeing of teens reveals early access to social platforms has been shown to correlate with greater levels of anxiousness, low self-esteem, irritability, continuous low mood, insomnia, depression and feeling overwhelmed. 

Of the negative mental health symptoms highlighted, irritability and low self-esteem are most strongly connected to earlier use of social media, and all main recognised mental ill-health symptoms are significantly more common among teenage social media users compared to non-users.

The first social accounts are opened at age 12 on average, with nearly one in five (18%) starting at age 10 or earlier.

Nearly half of all teens using social media admitted to lying about their age to create a social profile and more than a quarter (27%) have an account their parents don’t know about, according to the research.

The report reveals stark geographical differences in teens’ mental resilience, with those from Sheffield, Birmingham and Plymouth reporting significantly higher levels of unhappiness than average. 

Teenage girls were also much more likely to be unhappy compared to male teens and older teens (16-19) were nearly twice as likely to feel this way as their younger counterparts (13-15).

To help parents navigate the complexity of children’s mental wellbeing, Bupa has published a guide for parents and offers Mental Health Direct Access, a service where parents can call to speak to a mental health specialist without the need of a GP referral.

Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK, said restricting screen time or specific social media might not be enough and that some social platforms can significantly drive up anxiety and stress. 

“Despite the stereotype, teens really judge themselves on their academic performance, but social can promote procrastination, which amplifies this stress and worries around grades,” he added.