Heavy use in social media sites such as Snapchat, Instagram and Tik Tok are harming teenager’s mental health, a report has found.
Research from the Education policy institute and the Prince’s trust said wellbeing and self-esteem were similar in all children of primary school age.
Boys and girls' wellbeing is affected at the age of 14, but girls' mental health drops more after that, it found.
A lack of exercise is another contributing factor - exacerbated by the pandemic, the study said.
According to the research:
One in three girls was unhappy with their personal appearance by the age of 14, compared with one in seven at the end of primary school
The number of young people with probable mental illness has risen to one in six, up from one in nine in 2017
Boys in the bottom set at primary school had lower self-esteem at 14 than their peers
This has had more of a negative effect on people due to covid and lockdown.
“Participation in activities and sports will have fallen considerably due to school closures and lockdown, likely adversely affecting mental health and wellbeing,” it added.
It also made several recommendations, including a £650m package to schools for wellbeing funding after the pandemic and an increase in mental health teaching in schools.
With being 20 years old myself, I found myself using social media a lot more in lockdown when I could have been doing other active things that would have made me feel better. It is so easy to get indulged in social media and you find yourself spending hours on it without even realising.
The risks for the reward
Social media has a reinforcing nature. Using it activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” linked to pleasurable activities such as sex, food, and social interaction. The platforms are designed to be addictive and are associated with anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments.
To boost self-esteem and feel a sense of belonging in their social circles, people post content with the hope of receiving positive feedback. Couple that content with the structure of potential future reward, and you get a recipe for constantly checking platforms.
When reviewing others’ social activity, people tend to make comparisons such as, “Did I get as many likes as someone else?” or “Why didn’t this person like my post, but this other person did?” They’re searching for validation on the internet that serves as a replacement for the meaningful connection they might otherwise make in real life.
FOMO—fear of missing out—also plays a role. If everyone else is using social media sites, and if someone doesn’t join in, there’s concern that they’ll miss jokes, connections, or invitations.
Missing experiences can create anxiety and depression. When people look online and see they’re excluded from an activity, it can affect thoughts and feelings, and can affect them physically.
Her father, Ian, looked for answers. He scrolled through some of the social media posts she had been exposed to in the final months of her life.
“I can remember one that said ‘who would love a suicidal girl?’ and it had a little cartoon drawing of a sad-looking girl next to it”, he told Michael Safi.
After this case, campaigners believe something needs to be done to make social media safer for children.
How to protect your mental health
Over 50 million people in the UK are active on at least one platform. That’s over 80% of the population, a clear indication of how integral to our daily lives social media has become.
Studies tend to only measure a correlation between social media use and mental health at one given point, rather than looking at the effects over time that can help us to understand whether social media causes mental health problems.
Here’s four tips to help you stay in control:
Think about how, why and how much you are using social media. Do you need it for work? For socialising? Inspiration? Do you need it to stay in touch with family or friends?
Social media platforms and many people on them have their own agendas- so be mindful on how much time you are spending on there. Apps like hold and Offtime can also help you manage how much time you spend on your phone and social media.
Active use, by contrast, such as messaging and interacting with posts, is associated with better outcomes. These include increased social support and greater feelings of social connectedness.
Follow, share and interact with accounts and people that provide positive content that you enjoy. Join online communities to find like-minded people and make new connections. Be mindful of your own following on social media and use your settings to make sure only positive people are following you.
Mute, unfollow, block or delete anything or anyone that upsets you. Report anything that is abusive or upsetting to the social media platform.
On a more granular level, use your settings to maintain that control. If seeing how many likes others are getting, for instance, leads to corrosively negative comparisons, minimise or turn off likes or restrict what you see.
Understand your privacy settings and select who can see your content and contact you.
Crucially, if you are worried about your mental health, please seek help. Make an appointment to see your GP. Get in touch with a charity. Speak to your HR department at work or the student welfare officer at uni. It is always OK to ask for support!