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Navigating the impact of social media on kids’ mental health and well-being 

Middle East home to some of the highest engagement with apps  
Navigating the impact of social media on kids’ mental health and well-being 
Kid using social media

In today’s digital age, it’s difficult to imagine communication without the influence of social media. In a world driven by an abundance of content and data, it seems like there’s an app for virtually every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s a lively Discord group, a personal direct message, a captivating video or a WhatsApp broadcast, social media platforms have become the cornerstone of modern communication.  

Currently, there are a whopping 4.62 billion social media users, a significant increase compared to the 1.48 billion users recorded in 2012, showing a growth rate of 3.1 times. Remarkably, approximately 1 million new users join these platforms every single day, and Arab countries stand out prominently among the regions with the highest social media adoption. In fact, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar have emerged as global leaders in embracing social media as of April this year.  

YouTube, for instance, boasts the highest user base, starting with Lebanon and followed by Bahrain and Oman. Meanwhile, Egypt houses the seventh-largest audience on Facebook. Notably, Saudi Arabia stands out with 29.5 million social media users, with nearly 98 percent of them being young people.  

While research hasn’t explicitly concluded that social media is unsafe for children, it’s evident that there are substantial obstacles to fully comprehending its impact on mental health. However, a growing body of evidence indicates that social media usage can have negative consequences. As the world grapples with an escalating mental health crisis among the youth, it becomes imperative to question the role of social media in exacerbating these issues.  

Read: Using social media influencers to grow your business

The numbers

A significant proportion of today’s youth is highly active on social media platforms, with 95 percent of teenagers and 40 percent of children aged between 8 and 12 being engaged in online activities. On average, users spend approximately three and a half hours each day on social media. However, research has shown that prolonged screen time and excessive use of social media, exceeding three hours a day, can double the risk of depression and anxiety in individuals. 

Moreover, the impact of social media on self-perception is a growing concern. The use of “beautified” filters may contribute to a distorted sense of self and lead to negative body image issues, as users may come to feel less attractive without them. Shockingly, a substantial 46 percent of adolescents admit that social media makes them feel worse about their body image. 

The digital anonymity available on social media platforms provides a breeding ground for hurtful and harmful behavior. Unfortunately, statistics following the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed a significant increase in online exposure to hate speech in recent years. Despite age regulations intended to protect children from negative content, these restrictions have not proven as effective as desired. Consequently, cyberbullying victims often suffer profound psychological distress, feelings of isolation and depression. 

A recent research study conducted in Saudi Arabia investigated the relationship between social media and mental health. The findings highlighted that certain features of social media, such as likes, comments, and followers, can have a particularly detrimental impact on mental well-being. Individuals who use social media as a means of seeking external validation are more susceptible to experiencing stress, depression and anxiety.  

On the flip side

The abundance of information available on the internet has transformed it into an indispensable tool for learning and connecting with the world. Additionally, the increasing prevalence of community-led movements worldwide emphasizes the importance of staying informed through online channels to access first-hand accounts. 

In a study conducted a couple of years ago, it was found that more than 25 percent of young individuals aged between 14 and 22, who were dealing with depression, considered social media to be a crucial tool in their recovery. They reported that it provided them with valuable support and advice, which made them feel less isolated. Thanks to their online community, they could distinguish between harmful and helpful guidance. However, the challenge lies in the fact that they feel compelled to continue engaging with social media due to the overwhelming abundance of such content online.  

How can we address this issue?

Around 80 percent of parents firmly believe that tech companies should bear responsibility and be held accountable for the lack of regulations on social media platforms. Parents and health specialists in the United States are urgently calling on big tech to implement and enforce safety regulations on their products. As mental health gains prominence in both public and private discussions, open dialogues about young people’s online experiences can play a crucial role in mitigating the negative repercussions of excessive social media use. 

If your children are still young, consider delaying the age at which they start using social media. While the regulatory age set by social media platforms is 13 years, recent data shows that 40 percent of youth aged 8 to 12 are already active online, indicating a lack of adherence to the regulations. For those whose kids are already using social media, it’s essential to openly address the potential dangers of being online. Engaging in realistic conversations with your children and teenagers not only fosters dialogue and expression but also emphasizes the seriousness of using a smartphone app responsibly. 

In an increasingly isolating world, community remains one of the most vital pillars of our society. Social media has facilitated unprecedented connections with individuals worldwide, spanning interests in fashion, gaming, sports and more. 

However, along with the possibilities, social media has introduced challenges to our children’s safety and mental well-being. Certain aspects of a child’s life, such as sleep, in-person interactions, genuine connections, and physical activities, should ideally be tech-free spaces. Encouraging mindful engagement with social media is crucial. If mindless scrolling contributes to negative feelings or changes in mood, it might be time to disconnect and prioritize mental well-being. 

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