Loneliness: is social media to blame?

I’m not sure how many of you were watching Sky News last week but there were a number of segments on children and teenagers and the impact of social media. They headed the story with the fact that last year over 4,000 children called the NSPCC seeking help with loneliness. Of those 4,063 calls, there were 5 times as many calls from girls than boys (source: NSPCC).

Sky News held a focus group of teenagers in Bristol to discuss the issue and talk about the impact of social media sites and apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The teens spoke of how ‘you only post your best side on social media and so it’s completely different to friends in real life, you only see that perfect life that they have’ and how this can lead to feelings of inadequacy, isolation and loneliness. The focus group discussed what it’s like to feel lonely, and the response was ‘there’s no one there, no one to go and to talk to about it, nobody cares’. And when asked if they’d talk to their parents they said they’d rather talk to a close friend.

John Cameron, Director of ChildLine Services, NSPCC, said ‘Children are certainly under more pressure now and find it difficult to talk to their parents, with parents and families understandably very busy. Young people have high expectations about themselves because when they see things online and in the media, there are images that they try and live up to, which are impossible to live up to. Then there’s a sense of failure and with that failure comes a sense of isolation and they’re therefore interpreting that as loneliness’.

Loneliness has previously been associated with the elderly, but with the struggles of modern day life and the impact of online lives and social media, isolation is clearly impacting on the younger generations as well.

So what’s the answer? Having researched it there’s no magic answers and parents and society continue to debate and question it (see link below). I can remember reading an article, I don’t have the source details but it spoke about the need for parents and their children talking more. It spoke of how parents could find a space in the week, a regular set time each week where they sit down together and the child could tell their parents anything without recriminations or punishment, just receive parental advice or understanding. It spoke of how this ‘space to talk’ should start when kids are 8 or 9 and then by the time the children became teenagers they could trust that space and feel able to talk to their parents about things they may otherwise feel ashamed or normally too embarrassed to talk about.

If you’re interested in reading more, I’ve attached a link below to the ‘debate pack’ from the House of Commons, November 2016, which pulled together research to date, and debates on the subject. It’s titled ‘Effect of social media on the mental health of young people’.


-Written by Jonathon Thompson, Westmeria Counsellor  

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