The role of social media in the modern world is not limited solely to communication among people since many online platforms offer a wide range of additional services for advertisers, marketers, and other interested parties. However, in this digital environment, the abundance of content often leads to the uncontrolled use of these resources and, due to the lack of clear access restrictions, all users without exception may have accounts in social networks. The issue of granting the rights to utilize these sites to children is acute due to a high risk of various threats to their health, safety, and adaptation to life outside the Internet space.
At the same time, the possibilities of social media open up broad prospects for a positive impact on young users and the application of these platforms by parents and doctors for care and treatment purposes. As a result, the ambiguity of this problem is the reason for considering it from different perspectives. Children’s access to social media should be limited due to risks to moral and physical health and the safety of young users, but the competent application of these resources may contribute to alleviating cancer symptoms. This paper offers to consider the harmful effects of online platforms on children’s psyche and habits. Safety and social adaptation factors will be mentioned as significant criteria for assessing the impact of social media. A potentially positive health implication will be identified, particularly, the possibility of alleviating oncology symptoms among the target audience.
Negative Impact on Children’s Health
Children’s uncontrolled access to social media can affect their health adversely and cause the development of both physical and mental disorders. According to Chassiakos, Radesky, Christakis, Moreno, and Cross (2016), excess time in the online environment may lead to problems with sleep, behavior, and life habits. Potvin Kent, Pauzé, Roy, de Billy, and Czoli (2019) confirm this fact and note that among American children and adolescents, 89% have stable access to social networks (p. E12508). This figure is alarming since a sedentary lifestyle at an early age is fraught with the impaired development and such problems as obesity, muscle atrophy, and other dangerous health outcomes. Disordered eating caused by addiction to social media in the form of unhealthy behavior that occurs in children with an addiction to Internet communication (Chassiakos et al., 2016; Dinleyici, Carman, Ozturk & Sahin-Dagli, 2016).
Another serious problem is the increased advertising of alcohol and other products that are prohibited for use in childhood. For instance, according to the study conducted by Potvin Kent et al. (2019), from the target group of children, about 5% confirm the impact of alcohol advertising, and gradually, this indicator rises (p. e12508). Mental disorders are the result of prolonged exposure to a large amount of digital information. As Richards, Caldwell, and Go (2015) state, depressed moods are the frequent symptoms of long-term Internet use among children. At the same time, according to Ferrara et al. (2017), although parents should play a primary teaching role, their interaction with a child cannot be a key to solving the problem. Thus, one of the reasons for restricting young people’s access to social media is a detrimental effect on physical and moral health.
Social Media Insecurity for Children
The insecurity of social media for children is complemented by such a problem as cyberbullying that, in turn, maybe the cause of the aforementioned disorders and nervous breakdowns. Hamm et al. (2015) consider this phenomenon as a common threat due to the danger of exposure to a child’s fragile psyche and behavior. Livingstone, Mascheroni, and Staksrud (2018) supplement this opinion, but they also note that the greatest risks of cyberbullying come not from adult strangers but peers. Such a position may be objective since an opportunity to remain unpunished within the online space opens up for children the possibility to express opinions freely, including obvious humiliations and accusations. At the same time, Chawla (2018) remarks that the threat of cyberbullying in developing countries is higher than in those with an advanced level of economic and social development.
Nevertheless, regardless of the prevalence of this problem, its addressing is a significant task. Different authors agree that cyberbullying is often the key cause of not only behavioral disorders but also suicidal intentions (Hamm et al., 2015; Milosevic & Livingstone, 2017). The inability to resist psychological pressure, as Hamm et al. (2015) remark, maybe the result of children’s weakness to resist aggression on the Internet. However, unlike adults, children often cannot solve the cyberbullying problem on their own. Sedentary behavior and the absence of close friends encourage young users to respond to such an issue by themselves, which can lead to undesirable consequences, for instance, quarrels and fights (Downing, Salmon, Hinkley, Hnatiuk & Hesketh, 2017). Therefore, the position on restricting children’s access to social media and increased control over the activity of young users in the Internet environment can be proved by security threats from both unfamiliar adults and peers.
Difficulties of Children’s Social Adaptation
Spending free time in online communication affects the social adaptation of children and disrupts their natural psychological development. Minimal contacts in a real environment become a reason for isolation and, as Willoughby (2019) argues, most of the children communicating via social media have never seen one another offline. As a result, a child who does not have sufficient contact with real peers transforms psychologically, and in the future, he or she may experience challenges caused by the inability to interact with other people. Hoge, Bickham, and Cantor (2017) report a high level of social anxiety among children who are addicted to online communication. The experience of some countries, for instance, China, proves that the forced restriction of access to social media through a collective action helps reduce the level of depressive moods in children (Zheng & Yu, 2016).
Nevertheless, according to Sampasa-Kanyinga and Lewis (2015), in an online environment, a child often seeks support but not risks, and the task of adults is not to prohibit utilizing specific Internet platforms but rather to help children solve their problems. Tomczyk and Kopecký (2016) argue that the full communication of family members is a more effective measure than total control. This assumption is due to the lack of additional leisure opportunities. If children have alternative ways of using the Internet, the issue of access to virtual communication is less acute (Livingstone et al., 2017). As a result, even social media may be applied positively if properly designed strategies for interacting with the target audience are established.
Positive Health Implication
Children’s use of social media may have a positive health implication, in particular, cancer symptom alleviation if parents and medical staff control access and realize the possibilities of virtual interaction. The studies by Nagelhout et al. (2018) and Wong et al. (2016) are aimed at identifying the ways of applying caregivers’ online communication with children to help young patients cope with oncology successfully. According to Nagelhout et al. (2018), one of the main advantages the Internet space provides is an opportunity to exchange information conveniently between medical professionals and children to address cancer efficiently.
Wong et al. (2016), in turn, note that today, many oncology clinics adhere to this type of communication with young cancer patients, which indicates the relevance of this practice and its potential convenience. Online interaction is a valuable mechanism for drawing attention to the issue of alleviating severe symptoms (Dyson, Shave, Fernandes, Scott & Hartling, 2017). When turning to preventive measures, one can review the study by Lee and Horsley (2017) in which positive virtual communication is seen as a successful method of improving poor health indicators caused by cancer. However, in the case of the incompetent use of social media capabilities, more negative than positive implications will manifest themselves, and even the issue of oncology will not be addressed adequately. Thus, controlling children’s access to online activities is an essential task.
Threats to children’s health and safety are the key reasons determining the need to limit children’s access to social media, although these online platforms may be used to good effect, particularly, to address cancer symptoms. The risks to the physical and moral state increase if a child spends too much time in virtual communication. The situation can be exacerbated by cyberbullying that is found on social media and may lead to the development of nervous disorders. The social adaptation of a child tied to online communication is disrupted, and the roles of parents and other interested parties are in mediation and increased participation. The issue considered is a relevant topic, and its analysis makes it possible to understand that a total ban is not an effective measure, but restrictions on children’s pastimes in social networks should be promoted. Limited access is a potentially necessary measure that may help improve the psychological and physical health of young users.
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