Girls’ mental health crisis was fuelled by internet use in lockdown: Report warns of children being driven down the ‘dark spiral of online life’
- Girls mental health crisis fuelled by being driven down the ‘dark spiral of online life’ in lockdown
- Children’s Commissioner issued the warning last night after survey carried out
- Survey found girls twice as likely to face mental health problems than boys
A mental health crisis in girls has been fuelled by them being driven down the ‘dark spiral of online life’ during lockdown, the Children’s Commissioner warned last night.
The largest ever survey of children found girls were twice as likely to face mental health problems than boys and 40 per cent of girls aged 16 and 17 were unhappy with their mental health.
Dame Rachel de Souza said she was concerned that much of this was because of the ‘normalisation’ of sexual behaviour caused by the easy access to adult material online.
She warned of a sexting surge during lockdown, with boys feeling under pressure to ask girls for naked photographs. The Children’s Commissioner for England was speaking as she unveiled the results of her ‘Big Ask’ survey, which received responses from 550,000 children in April and May.
A mental health crisis in girls has been fuelled by them being driven down the ‘dark spiral of online life’ during lockdown, the Children’s Commissioner warned last night (stock image)
And she said children had told her how they had been led down the ‘dark spiral of online life’ during lockdown when they were unable to go out and play.
Dame Rachel urged adult websites to introduce age verification as soon as possible, and called on social media firms to do more to prevent underage children using their sites.
The survey found that 71 per cent of children aged nine to 17 were happy with their life overall, although 9 per cent did not think they would have a better life than their parents.
Girls were nearly twice as likely as boys to be unhappy with their mental health – 25 per cent to 13 per cent. Older children were also more likely to be unhappy (32 per cent of 16 to 17-year-olds, compared with 9 per cent of nine to 11-year-olds).
Some 40 per cent of girls aged 16 to 17 were unhappy with their mental health. And it found that where children were unhappy with family life, they were nine times more likely to be unhappy with life overall.
Dame Rachel said girls were concerned about their body image after seeing ‘images of perfection’ on social media. She added: ‘We are seeing a rise in eating disorders and there are real concerns about that slipping into more serious mental health issues. Children tell us they are an online generation, but one of the top things they want coming out of lockdown is actually to get offline and to play outside.
‘Girls are getting asked to send naked pictures to classmates through social media. This is stuff I really want to be stopped and that I think has got worse during lockdown.
‘This generation definitely is tech savvy but they also want to have lives outside of that. There is a lovely quote from a child talking about: “I want to get out of that dark spiral of online life – I want to go out and play and see my friends”.’
The commissioner said children were routinely exposed to inappropriate content online including pornography, heavily-filtered images, physical violence and gore, and content relating to self-harm, eating disorders and suicide.
Dame Rachel added: ‘My big concern is the tech companies, because that’s where most kids are seeing inappropriate pornography; things they shouldn’t be seeing.
‘And that’s where the bullying and naked pictures starts to happen. It’s normalising sexual behaviour and it’s putting undue pressure on girls and boys.’
She called on the new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to ‘support girls’ and force the tech giants to impose age verification controls if they continue to drag their feet.
‘I know she will have the welfare of children at heart,’ Dame Rachel added.
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