A new study by the Centre for Research on Civic Trust has found that the use of social networking sites like Facebook by Irish teens could expose them to harmful content that can be damaging to their health and wellbeing.
The research was conducted by the Department of Education’s Centre for Social Justice Research (CSJ) and is published in the Irish Journal of Public Health.
“Facebook is not the only social network that can expose a child to harmful material, as a number of other online networks are also known to be problematic,” said Dr Emma Burdick, Director of CSJ.
“However, Facebook is the one that is the most popular amongst young people.
This study shows that children in Ireland have a strong preference for Facebook as it is the platform most likely to provide access to harmful messages that can lead to social isolation.”
According to the research, Facebook has a significant presence in Ireland among under 18s, as it was used by more than 30% of under 18 students at schools in the first three months of this year.
“We found that, compared to the general population, students in Ireland are more likely to use Facebook for social networking purposes.
The vast majority of under 19 students use Facebook, which has been suggested to be due to their low socio-economic status,” said Professor John O’Donnell, Senior Lecturer in Social Justice and Director of the CSJ Centre for Public Health and Social Justice.
“The research shows that the more likely they are to use a social networking site, the more vulnerable they are likely to be to harmful exposure.”
According with the CSZ, it is crucial that social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter do not become a part of their children’s daily lives.
“This is particularly important when young people are communicating with peers, as these online groups are often used by teenagers to communicate about school, social life and other subjects that are less likely to come up in formal social settings,” Dr Burdack said.
She explained that it is not just children who are vulnerable, as adults can be vulnerable too.
“Parents can be particularly vulnerable as the vast majority (90%) of children do not have access to a parent-to-parent chat, nor do they have access through a regular internet connection.
Children who are not able to connect with their peers face increased isolation and are more at risk of bullying and other negative behaviours, which are often linked to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,” she added.
In order to prevent children from being exposed to harmful online content, parents should ensure that their children are protected from online content.
“Online content is a relatively new phenomenon for many young people, and we must ensure that they are given a safe environment to interact, learn, and have fun,” Dr O’Brien said.
The CSJ has launched a campaign to educate parents about the dangers of social media.
The campaign will focus on the social media sites of schools and online games such as Clash of Clans.
“Our research shows the importance of education and support for young people online,” Dr Eoin Ó Glinn, Director for CSJ said.
It is important that parents are aware of the consequences of social network use and are actively promoting the benefits of social networks,” Dr Glinn added. “
They can also read more on how to protect themselves online by reading online magazines and blogs that have tips for young children.
It is important that parents are aware of the consequences of social network use and are actively promoting the benefits of social networks,” Dr Glinn added.
The findings of the study have been published in a new article in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.
This article was produced by the CSJS Centre for the Public Health of Health & Community.