Social Media’s Effects on the Development of Children


Brooke Doran, Staff Writer

How does inappropriate content affect children? 

We are living through glowing screens, plastic people, and artificial intelligence. Maybe this is a dystopian outlook on life, but it is true and the word “artificial” encapsulates it all; our outlook on what is real and what is falsified has been skewed. Beautifying filters are becoming more and more realistic, news outlets that claim credibility are no longer reliable, and social media platforms are monopolizing entertainment for all ages. Kids are being exposed to more edited, graphic, and vulgar content than ever before, and this raises the question: Is social media ruining childhood? The view of childhood many people have is innocence; the world is still pure and untouched. Doris Bühler Niederberger, an Education and Social Sciences Professor at the University of Wuppertal, states in an article dedicated to the innocence of childhood, “Innocence refers to children’s simplicity, their lack of knowledge, and their purity not yet spoiled by mundane affairs.”  To that effect, doesn’t everything ruin childhood innocence? Yes, life’s timeline in the view of innocence is just that, as life goes on innocence is ruined. To that fact of life, my original question is shaped specifically; does social media’s use in childhood development dangerously increase the rate at which a child matures due to exposure to inappropriate content?

Inappropriate content is almost entirely impossible to avoid while using social platforms. Shocking and graphic content grabs attention easily. Media platforms are more than aware of this fact, which is why they are able to make such great profits. Media platforms use the content to get people to use their apps. Most social media applications have age restrictions, meant to stop children from going on inappropriate platforms, but they do not do a great job. Business Insider reports 40% of users on Instagram are under 13 years old, despite the fact that the age restriction to join is 13 years old or over. Similarly to rated R movies in the 80s, children view the age limit as more of a request and less of a rule to follow. The only thing that guards a child against using social media is entering their age. In a time of fabrication, it is easier to lie on social media and make up an age than order a latte. This ability to lie too easily with no consequence is why such a high percentage of young children are on inappropriate platforms for their age group.  According to a survey by Dr. Heitner, the Founder and CEO of ​Raising Digital Natives, “Among tweens, 38 percent of survey respondents said they used social media.” This use of social media at such a large scale highlights the possible effects of social media could have on the youth of our society.

Children on social media are being exposed to extremely dangerous stunts, nudity, and many other mature issues in hundreds of videos at a time, daily. This is not to say children have never been able to access inappropriate content before, but now it’s available by the masses and not just a magazine a parent had stashed under their bed or a trashy movie a group of kids snuck into. This idea of accessibility increases the rate at which appropriate content is seen by children, verified by an article published by Cyber Safety, an organization dedicated to keeping youth safe online: “70% of kids ages 8-18 have accidentally encountered online pornography, very often by entering an innocent search term while doing their homework.” This statistic is not entirely surprising. Children being prone to curiosity is one of the driving forces of life, and media platforms provide access to an immensely large amount of graphic material. This exposure to vulgarity, while a child is still developing, can be extremely dangerous. Children’s brains are clay and are easily molded by seeing inappropriate content. According to Nasi Hako, a journalist for News24, “Exposure to pornography harms children and youth by normalizing sexual violence, creating unrealistic expectations for intimate partners and relationships, and increasing the risk of addiction.” Exposure to sexual content due to social media can affect the outcome of a child’s life not only because of the extreme factors previously listed but also because it can alter a child’s understanding of sex as a whole.

Pornographic material is not the only type of inappropriate kind of material that children have access to while online. Although it is more normalized and accepted in modern-day culture, extreme violence and dangerous stunts are also focal points of inappropriate content featured on many social platforms.  Although it is harder to find exact statistics on the rates at which violent material is published and viewed online due to the way society as a whole has normalized its severe effects on children, it has similarly harmful effects in comparison to sexual material. According to Craig Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, “Meta-analyses of the unhealthy effects of media-violence have shown that youth who view media-violence on a regular basis are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior.” Along with a decrease in social behavior, there has been an increase in violence among children.  There has been an intense uptick in school shootings and/or school shooting threats since 1999. 

Social media is marketing everything online that is being sold and branded. The biggest product that is sold online isn’t makeup or shoes, it’s knowledge. Whether this knowledge is beneficial or not is the question. A child learning about inappropriate content at a young age is simply not beneficial. It makes it so children have access to harmful content at younger ages, harmful content that can leave permanent effects on a child’s development that can follow them into the future. 

* Image from, Creative Commons License