The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned that pre-teens are ‘ill-equipped’ for the avalanche of pressure on social media as they head into secondary school, the Times finds out more

A recent report published by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, found that for many children the social media world begins to dominate their lives, with many craving and seeing likes and comments as a way of validating their identity.

The report, entitled, Life In Likes, states that children are becoming increasingly anxious about their online image as they begin Year 7.

Ms Longfield said it has been known for a while that more and more children under 13 are using social media apps, despite the fact they are not designed for their use. The study, which involved eight groups with 32 children aged eight to 12, found the most popular social media platforms are Snapchat, Instagram, Musically and Whatsapp.

But Ms Longfield said the most surprising discovery for her was the change in how social media is used between the ages of nine and 10, and up to 12 and 13.

“What starts as fun usage of apps – children are using it with family and friends and to play games when they are in primary school – turns into an avalanche of pressure when children really are faced with a cliff edge of social media interaction when they start secondary school,” she said.

This move is centred around a social pressure to be constantly contactable and connected, with children describing this as an important expectation of their friendships, and fallouts over not being responsive enough, the report said.

Some Year 7 children, who are in the first year of their secondary education, described how receiving notifications from across the social media platforms, especially if there were a number of them, was distracting, time consuming and stressful to manage.

The Times approached a number of our local schools for comment. The new Head Teacher at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys Amanda Simpson said: “As a school we see firsthand the impact that social media has on young people, sadly this is too often negative.

“We have made the decision to ban phones/tablets from the school during the school day with overwhelming support from parents.  Encouraging our young people to interact more on a face to face level.  The link between social media/ screen time and mental health is all too evident.”

Julie Lodrick, Headmistress of Kent College added, “Ann Longfield is right to highlight the increasing pressures that children face from social media.  However, to say that schools should play a bigger role in preparing children for the demands of social media as they move from primary to secondary school is far too simplistic.

“A more realistic response needs to propose an equally co-ordinated effort between schools, parents, the government and the social media platforms themselves, with each taking equal responsibility for supporting, guiding and educating this fully digital generation of children.”

Describing the start of senior school as a ‘very pressured time for children anyway’, the Children’s Commissioner said it is likely that by the age of 11-12 most are likely to have a smartphone.

Ms Longfield went on to say that social media provides a way of children passing judgment on the popularity of others and what they look like, and can be ‘very negative for children’.

She added: “We know it is hugely damaging for children in terms of their self identity, confidence, but also in terms of their ability to develop themselves as individuals,” she said.

Calling on schools and parents to prepare children for this change in social media use towards the end of primary school, the commissioner also warned it needs to be dealt with ‘swiftly’.

“It is something which if we don’t deal with now, will mean that it grows over time and children will have greater problems as they move through secondary school,” she added.