By Juliet Umeh

A research by a team at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media may double the risk of mental health problems.

The study of more than 6,000 children aged 12 to 15 found those who used social media heavily, were more likely to report issues such as depression, anxiety and loneliness.

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They also express unnecessary aggression and anti-social behaviour which are hardly seen in teenagers who did not use social media.

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Senior Clinical Lecturer at King’s College London, KCL, and consultant psychiatrist, Dr Rina Dutta, said: “A major strength of this study compared to previous research is that the researchers took into account mental health problems the young people already had a year prior to the measurement of social media use,” she said.

Also, an author, Kira Riehm said: “Many existing studies have found a link between digital or social media use and adolescent health, but few look at this association across time.

She said: “We cannot conclude that social media causes mental health problems, but we do think that less time on social media may be better for teens’ health.”

Supporting the report, renowned Psychiatrist and Dean of faculty of Clinical Science at the University of Lagos, Prof. Joseph Adeyemi, said the adverse effect of social media on students is huge and warned Nigerian parents to control the number of hours their wards spend on social media.

He said: “Social media is obviously a market place of information. However, most information in the social media have the good, the bad and the ugly strands. So, they require very mature minds to dissect and pick the good and jettison toxic ones. Unfortunately, a lot of parents buy phones to their children who are under the age of 10, thereby launching so many under aged children into the digital world prematurely. Most often, this exposes them to grave dangers.

“Many of them assimilate, hook line and sinker, everything that they see in the social media, and at the end of the day,  try to practice what they’ve seen. That is the sad part of Nigeria’s social media development, as we speak” he added.

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Adeyemi said: “What I think we should do is that government should start limiting the kind of information that gets to the social media so that the negative things do not continue to affect the lives of citizens adversely.

“We need to start looking at the educational system. We need to incorporate information about social media, how to use it, the strength and weaknesses,” he advised.

Also, in the view of an educationist  and Chairman, Board of Director  of Olashore International School,  Prince Abimbola Olashore,  parents must not just allow access to the internet without monitoring.

He told  Hi-Tech  that parents must ensure control of the internet so that children can access age-related materials and contents.

Olashore  said: “In our school, when a child logs into the internet, he or she can only access age-related contents. So, if we can do it as a school, why can’t parents also have that kind of interest?

Olashore said that controlling what a child accesses online is not a breach of the child’s right and so parents should not be blackmailed into believing that looking into the online activities of their children is tantamount to snooping on them.

Olashore also challenged parents to take a bit of training in social media as well as get involved in trending issues to be able to not only monitor their wards properly but be able to help them out when they get confused.

He said when parents are inaccessible to their children or do not know the current issues, the children could develop the tendency of asking the nearest person, who might just mislead them.

He warned:  “Parents should know that the internet has changed everything. Before, all the kids are in the neighbourhood and their friends are in the neighbourhood even the school is also in the neighbourhood, so you have a fairly good idea of their friends and very well understood the space they operate.

“But with the internet, there’s nothing like neighbourhood, the whole world is their neighbourhood and they will get information and influences from all over the world. The only antidote is to learn about the programmes and applications our children are using and also show interest in their online life,” he said.


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