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Social Media And Body Image Put Kids At Risk Of Mental Health Problems, Say Parents

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Most parents believe children are more prone to mental health problems today than when they were growing up, according to exclusive research for the The Huffington Post UK.

Two-thirds (66%) say problems such as depression and anxiety are more prevalent, with most blaming worries over body image and pressure from social media, suggests the poll, published as part of our Young Minds Matter series, guest edited by the Duchess of Cambridge.

More than 1,000 parents with children under 18 were asked about their worries about mental health problems for the survey, carried out by YouGov.

Four-fifths (81%) of parents blame social media for making their children more vulnerable to mental health problems.

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Most parents think social media is making kids prone to problems (stock image)

Peter Fonagy, chief executive of mental health charity the Anna Freud Centre, said that while children got many social benefits from using the internet, it could also be harmful.

"The more electronic media is used by a kid, the poorer their outcomes are in terms of wellbeing," he said. "With each hour of computer use the likelihood of emotional problems goes up."

Body image was another major concern, with more than two-thirds (69%) of parents thinking their children faced more pressure than they did.

Half of parents (49%) also highlighted the pressure of school work as a factor and a similar proportion (47%) felt children were more socially isolated than they used to be.

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Infographic supplied by Statista

Research from the Anna Freud Centre last year showed early concern about body image could relate to self-harm later in life for some children.

Pressures to look a certain way often comes from other children, Fonagy said.

"Most information to young people comes via peers," he said. "There is some from the media but the media probably influences other kids. One way or another, the media starts affecting the whole social group and one thing kids are very vulnerable to is what other children think."

From the age of six to nine, parents’ views become less important in a child’s life than opinions from others in the playground.

But parents still have a vital role in a child’s mental wellbeing, he cautioned.

"I want to stress that while the parents’ views may be less important, parental supervision of the child is incredibly important," said Fonagy.

"If they are not supervised, even if they seem to be ignoring the views of the parent, that kid is much more likely to go off the rails."

One in ten children suffers a mental health problem and half of all adult mental health problems begin before the age of 15, other research suggests.

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Parents and teachers say more education and conversation are needed to intervene early and reduce the risks.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of parents in the HuffPost UK survey worried their children were suffering from mental health problem.

The vast majority (85%) said they often spoke to their child about their feelings but a similar proportion (83%) said they were confident in dealing with their child’s mental health state.

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Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK’s mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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