Social media use linked to spike in teen self harm

Savannah Meacham |

Queensland has issued a health warning for children using social media.
Queensland has issued a health warning for children using social media.

Social media use has sparked a “public health problem” in Queensland, with authorities linking it to an alarming number of teenagers being hospitalised.

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard has issued a formal advisory about social media’s negative impact on young Queenslanders, recommending parents restrict or exclude its use for kids under 14 years old.

Dr Gerrard said most health indicators were improving in Queensland with deaths from cancer and cardiac disease decreasing.

But he said one measure stood out – a mental health decline in teenagers, especially girls.

State health data shows self-harm hospitalisations for Queensland girls aged up to 14 years have tripled since 2008.

For girls aged 15 to 19, self-harm hospitalisations have nearly doubled.

The rate almost doubled for males up to 14 over the same period.

Dr Gerrard linked the stark rise in self harm to social media platforms, which he said had become an unstoppable phenomenon.

“We have a significant public health problem in Queensland,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Currently, the minimum age to use social media platforms is 13.

Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard (file image)
John Gerrard is urging parents to talk to their children about social media. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

Dr Gerrard recommended parents closely monitor and support teens as social media is introduced and restrict time until healthy habits are established.

“Young children are less likely than older children to have the developmental capacity to manage social media adequately and the content they are exposed to,” he said.

The recommendations have been published in a guideline on Queensland Health’s website.

Dr Gerrard said the community needed to talk about social media’s dangers.

“We cannot pretend it is not a problem. It is real,” he said.

Premier Steven Miles is also steadfast in his belief, shared by his peers in NSW and Victoria, that children need to be protected and responsibility should fall on social media companies.

“They are failing on so many measures designed to protect our kids and parents need help in monitoring and restricting access to dangerous content,” Mr Miles told parliament on Tuesday.

The premier has backed Dr Gerrard’s recommendations but wants it to go even further – a complete ban for kids under 14 and parental approval up to 16.

“We’re seeing so much evidence on how social media plays with the brains of young people,” he told reporters.

“We don’t let young people use pokies and they are designed to have a similar effect, so we should seriously consider the impact of social media.”

NSW Premier Chris Minns said on Monday the ban should be for children under 16, while Victorian leader Jacinta Allan did not specify a minimum age.

South Australia is investigating if it can impose social-media bans for children aged under 14 and parental permission for those aged under 16.

The federal government has also indicated it supports tighter restrictions on children accessing social media, with the health minister looking into a potential age limit.

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Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

AAP