A recent poll of UK parents found that 32% were worried that their teens would spend too much time on social media during the summer holidays.
Of course, these stats are an average of time spent over 2018. It’s likely that with the expanse of free time over the summer holidays, kids and teens spend far longer online and on social media.
Is it an issue if children and teens spend more time on social over the summer holidays?
The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, raised concerns about the time children spend on the internet in their summer holidays, back in 2017. She told the Observer that parents needed to “step-up” to prevent their children from spending too much time online over the holiday period.
But parents don’t have the control over their children’s access to technology that they once did. We’re not just connecting to the internet over desktop computers; we have the internet in our pockets now.
Technology has changed, and the norms, habits and behaviours of children, tweens and teens have adapted to this new world.
Eighty-seven per cent of parents would be happy to give their children use of smartphones and tablets from the age of two.
One survey of families with children under the age of 14 found that, on average, the children were spending an average of 3 hours and 14 minutes on their devices per day, and spent only 1 hour 43 minutes in conversation with their families.
Why are children online and using social media so much?
Being online is the main way that many kids can keep in touch with their friends, especially during the summer break. It’s also how they can keep up with their hobbies and major trends in their friendship groups.
For example, kids, tweens and teens use YouTube and Twitch to watch videos and streams of Fortnite; and now Fortnite is offering fans a way to earn in-game loot by watching videos of its world cup tournament.
Some teens use apps like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat to create and share their own content, some with the aspiration of becoming influencers, and others to maintain a certain image within their peer group. Others use it to connect with communities they identify with, and get help for the problems they are experiencing.
The reasons for needing to be on social media varied by age group, according to the report by the Children’s Commissioner, which found:
- 8-9 year-olds were on social media to play games with their friends and they looked to social media to entertain them and cheer them up when things were hard (or boring) at home.
- 9-10 year-olds used social media to discover new fun things to do and to start to create an identity for themselves away from their parents.
- 10 to 11 year-olds used social to maintain and strengthen friendships and to experiment with the way they looked in pictures.
- For 11 to 12 year-olds, social media was mainly about fitting in with their peers and getting emotional support for issues they might be having (issues that they may feel their friends would understand more than their parents).
But there are ways that some apps compel users to keep using them. For example, Snapchat uses Snapstreaks to encourage people to use the app daily, and this has proven to be so addictive that people file complaints when they think the app has unfairly ended their streak.
A 2018 study covering 2,000 parents across Western Europe, found that two in five families had tried to enforce a “digital detox” over the summer holidays, but that only half of them worked because the children, and the parents, couldn’t cope without their devices.
The traditional post-summer holiday problems can be exacerbated with social media. For example, some of us will remember coming back to school to the dreaded “what did you do during your summer holidays?” question, and having to try to compete with classmates that went on luxury holidays or were taken on amazing activities and experiences. Social media can do a more efficient job of highlighting how much fun your friends have had. Kids have to struggle with the whole issue around comparing their everyday life to their friends’ highlights reel, and parents, teachers and guardians should coach them on how to handle that.
In summary, kids, tweens and teens may use social media more than usual over the holidays for a variety of reasons, tied into their identity, social currency, friendship groups, need for entertainment and response to a compulsive need to post.
Brands marketing to children might see this as an opportunity. But responsible brands will be mindful of the impact that too much online activity can have on children and on their families, and think about how they can be part of a solution, rather than contributing to the problem.