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9 January 2018
By Rebecca Avery

"Life in Likes": Children’s Commissioner’s Report Published

The Children’s Commissioner has published a report on the effects of social media on 8-to-12-year-olds. In October and November 2017, the Children's Commissioner conducted 8 focus groups with 32 children aged 8-12 to understand the impact of social media on the wellbeing of this age group. The ‘Life in Likes’ report examines the way children use social media and its effects on their wellbeing and explores how younger children use platforms which social media companies say are not designed for them.
  • While 8-10s use social media in a playful, creative way – often to play games – this changes significantly as children’s social circles expand as they grow older.
  • The report shows that many Year 7 children are finding social media hard to manage and becoming over-dependent on ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ for social validation.
  • Children become increasingly anxious about their online image and ‘keeping up appearances’ as they get older. This can be made worse when they start to follow celebrities and others outside close family and friends and this group grows significantly upon starting secondary school. Their use of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat can also undermine children’s view of themselves by making them feel inferior to the people they follow.
  • Children feel social pressure to be constantly connected at the expense of other activities – especially in secondary school where the whole class often have their own phone and are on social media.
  • Children worry about ‘sharenting’ – parents posting pictures of them on social media without their permission; they feel that parents will not listen if they ask for them to take photos down
The findings of the research are summarised as:

'How I use social media'

  • Across all ages, the most popular social media were Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
  • Younger children had less routine around when they accessed social media, while older children started to get into the habit of using all their social media apps multiple times a day, and for some, it had come to dominate their day.
  • Children knew how to cheer themselves up or calm themselves down using social media, from getting funny Snapchats from a friend to watching videos on Instagram.
  • Social media allowed children to be creative and play games, two things that appealed to children from a very young age.

'How I stay safe online'

  • Parents and schools had successfully ingrained messages in children about online safety from known risks such as predators and strangers.
  • Children were less aware of how to protect themselves from other online situations that could affect their mood and emotions.
  • Online safety messages tended to be learned as ‘rules’, rather than general principles children could apply to new or different contexts.

'My friends and family'

  • Younger children were particularly influenced by their family’s views and usage of social media, and parents may be unaware of how their use of social media affects their child.
    • Younger  children often complemented their social media use by using their parents’ devices to access their parents’ Facebook or Twitter accounts.
      • Parents sometimes gave children contradictory safety messages and unknowingly exposed them to unsuitable content.
    • Many children felt uncomfortable and bothered by their parents posting pictures of them on social media, yet felt they could do little to stop it.
  • Children learned how to do new things on social media from their older siblings, but were also put off by things that their siblings had experienced.
    • In some cases, children worried about their siblings’ behaviour online, such as excessive use and ignoring safety messages.
  • Social media was important for maintaining relationships, but this got trickier to manage at secondary school, where friendships could break down online.
    • Children used social media as a tool to maintain friendships, and they recognised the value of face-to-face interactions for more serious conversations, like discussing worries and resolving arguments.
    • Younger children were more likely to see unkind comments from strangers on apps like Roblox, whereas older children, who were communicating with a greater number of people on group chats, faced issues and confusion around the blurring of ‘jokes’ that were posted publicly.

'Growing up on social media'

  • Children are conscious of keeping up appearances on social media, particularly when they start secondary school, and identity and seeking peer approval become more important.
    • Despite talking about the importance of ‘staying true to yourself’ and being authentic on social media, girls were worried about looking ‘pretty’ and boys were more concerned with looking ‘cool’ and having the right clothing.
    • When children started to follow celebrities and people outside their close family and friends, many became aware of how they looked compared to other people on social media, and felt that comparisons were unattainable.
    • Children felt good when they got ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ from friends, and some Year 7 children were starting to become dependent on them, using techniques to guarantee they would get a high number of ‘likes’.
    • Children started to see offline activities through a ‘shareable lens’ based on what would look the best on social media.
  • Social media could inspire children and help them learn about new things.
    • Some children developed new aspirations about what they wanted their future to be like and copied things they saw on social media.
    • Some children actively gathered information on social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram, and were exposed to ‘news’ via celebrities and ‘explore/discover’ pages.


  • Social media was perceived as having a positive effect on children’s wellbeing, and enabled them to do the things they wanted to do, like staying in touch with friends and keeping entertained.
  • However it also had a negative influence, for example it made them worry about things they had little control over.
  • For younger children this was more related to their families’ use of social media, whereas for older children this was more strongly linked to peers and friendships.


  • Schools need to broaden digital literacy education beyond simple safety messages, to develop children’s critical awareness and resilience and understanding of algorithms, with a focus on the transition stage from primary to secondary school.
  • Parents need to be informed about the ways in which children’s social media use changes with age, particularly on entry to secondary school, and help them support children to use social media in a positive way, and to disengage from it.
  • Teachers’ knowledge about the impacts of social media on children’s wellbeing need to be improved and schools should encourage peer-to-peer learning
  • Social media companies need to recognise the needs of children under 13 who are using their platforms and incorporate them in service design or do more to address underage use.