A report published today by children's commissioner Anne Longfield found that children's use of social media increases rapidly after they enter secondary school, with them often using social media multiple times a day.
The report, which focused on social media use among eight- to 12-year-olds, found that while social media helped children stay in touch with friends and entertained them, it also made them view offline activities through a "shareable lens", made them anxious about their appearance and put them under pressure to seek validation from others from their social media activities.
Some of the 32 children consulted for the report said that they were also uncomfortable about how their parents shared photos of them on social media but felt unable to stop this from happening.
And while children had taken online safety messages to heart, they often lacked the resilience and critical awareness needed to deal with negative aspects of social media such as cyberbullying.
"While social media clearly provides some great benefits to children, it is also exposing them to significant risks emotionally, particularly as they approach year 7," said Longfield.
"Just because a child has learned the safety messages at primary school does not mean they are prepared for all the challenges that social media will present."
The children's commissioner's report said schools should play a bigger role in preparing children for the emotional demands of social media by teaching them about how social media companies use algorithms and other techniques to prevent users from going offline.
Peer-to-peer education, the report suggested, would be a useful way to help children understand how best to engage with social media.
Longfield also called for more to be done to help parents teach their children about social media and urged social media companies to do more to stop underage use.
"Failing to do so risks leaving a generation of children growing up chasing ‘likes' to make them feel happy, worried about their appearance and image as a result of the unrealistic lifestyles they follow on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, and increasingly anxious about switching off due to the constant demands of social media," said Longfield.
The report said that most eight- to 12-year-olds use social media and the most popular sites for this age group are Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and Musical.ly.