NOTE: There are two clips within this post, one from 7.20am, one from 9.40am.
In May 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health produced a report #StateofMind looking at the correlation (though not necessarily causation) between young people’s social media use and mental health/wellbeing. The key findings were:
- 91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking
- Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol
- Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years
- Social media use is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep
- Cyber bullying is a growing problem with 7 in 10 young people saying they have experienced it
- Social media can improve young people’s access to other people’s experiences of health and expert health information
- Those who use social media report being more emotionally supported through their contacts
With an unexpected interest in this, they then developed this into the idea of #ScrollFreeSeptember:
The story was picked up in a BBC article at the end of July, but for BBC Breakfast, it made for a good weekend story (Saturday being their day with the highest viewing figures, apparently). It was an early start this morning, with an alarm at 5.30am, taxi at 6am, and at MediaCity, Salford, by 6.30am, ready for make-up, meeting Ed Morrow who I’d be on the sofa with, and chatting to the producers about what to expect/likely questions, and getting miked up.
The original timeslot was 7.20am, and we were then asked to stay on and discuss again til 9.30am (subject to NASA rocket launch). It felt like we had just done introductions, when our timeslot was up … although apparently they’d extended our slot because they liked what we were saying:
We spent the intervening time chatting in the Green Room, chomping on a bit of breakfast, and interacting with the others who were on the sofa, as well as our social media feeds!:
Once it was confirmed that the NASA rocket launch is delayed until tomorrow, we went on a fraction later than expected (it’s live news, until your face is being beamed out, you assume you might get bumped!)
Aside from looking at the BBC story, RSPH page, and the video, I hoicked out a few of the things I’d written/spoken about in the past (and read Yvonne Kelly’s guest blog) and pulled together a few other ideas:
- Accepted submission to ‘Impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health inquiry’ Commons Select Committee (2018).
- Alicia Blum-Ross: When parents choose ‘screen time’ (2016).
- There’s a consistent media narrative that needs dealing with. Leads with words such as ‘negative, addictive’, rather than leading with the possibilities and the positive. Most pieces have one line that ‘of course there’s good stuff, but look at all this bad stuff’.
- Social media is not necessarily something that people need to detox from, and that many don’t actually work in the revolutionary way that people expect (see book extract) – people find other things to fill their time with. When taken in the sense of ‘give it all up’ (rather like a diet, may work in the short term, doesn’t help in the long term – see Beyond Chocolate) – people are likely to give up and then give in – and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Smaller steps in a coaching style = ‘how would it be to try x’?
- For many people (and not just young people), our phones are somewhat of a Swiss knife, and have much more functionality than many give them credit for.
- There is value in reflecting on our habits and practices online .. I struggle with the notion that the #ScrollFreeSeptember, although it talks about different levels of ‘giving up’, seems to view going ‘cold turkey’ as a gold standard to be aimed for! The notion of not using for work/school makes sense, except within appropriate sessions … partly depends what your job is. If I need to focus on writing, I’ll often turn it off (and use it for accountability!)
- The notion of giving up for a month-ish, I’ve looked at before with church members ‘giving up for Lent’, and it feels rather like saying ‘I won’t talk to those friends for a month’. Dave White – Residents & Visitors.
- RSPH indicates that work social media is OK, but this is where I see a lot of the pressure comes from (companies need to look at policies around social/digital as much as email, and not necessarily starting from a ‘do not’ standpoint)
- My key point is likely to be a focus on quality not quantity of interaction (see also this 2016 report from LSE).
- There’s also so much pressure to ‘be productive’ in contemporary times, and it’s OK to make space for play too (balance please).
- If we’re focusing on technology as the problem, we’re not looking at the other issues – e.g. exam pressures, feeling of limited career options .
- What happens online tends to be offline amplified (it’s not either-or, or real-virtual), so the cultural expectations to respond ASAP, etc. come from outside the tech. The companies need to look at how they build the software and making their gamification hooks TOO compelling, and need to be answerable to government.
- There’s always the question of ‘correlation-causation’. Huge amount of pressure on kids – but if we’re focusing on blaming the technology, we’re not thinking about the other pressures (I see #HeadsTogether – the Royal Charity) tends to emphasise this side of things.. and the benefit of bit of mindless activity online. *With computer games, worth giving children e.g.a 20 min warning so they can finish a level, or give them a time range in which they should be finished.
- One of my favourite quotes from @Livingstone_S is ‘Even though in practice, face-to-face communication can, of course, be angry, negligent, resistant, deceitful and inflexible, somehow it remains the ideal against which mediated communication is judged as flawed’. (2009, 26)
- As a historian, look back at previous moral panics – we have survived worse things in the past – suspect Ed & I have a lot in common – both want what’s best for children (and rest of society), and in many ways parts of this plan are good (e.g. not all or nothing), but the way it’s framed is part of wider media narrative that technology is ‘bad’ and needs ‘managing’
- Support groups are great (for single parents, widowed, elderly – my cancer treatment and the value of FB groups (e.g. YBCN, UKBCSG and WIASN) + other social media to connect with others in a way that wasn’t limited by geography – or the time of night-day). Hoping to look at this with Macmillan bid: how does good/bad peer-to-peer information impact on patients and clinical decision making.
- Bottom line surely is if social media is impacting on your life negatively then taking time to reflect and examine is wise! For some – it may be helpful for some to say ‘I’m doing this thing, so you can’t contact me (between x hours)’. Otherwise, the apologies and feelings of guilt that ‘go on social media every day’ or ‘for 10 hours a week’ is problematic.
- Draft from Telegraph piece: 39% of 8-11 year olds have their own smartphone, 52% their own tablet device, and 94% are online, for an average of over 13 hours a week. These are just some of the stats from Ofcom’s November 2017 Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report which demonstrate just how thoroughly embedded digital and social media have become within children’s lives. Much of what children do online is positive, including access to information around areas of concern such as mental health and body image, strengthening relationships with friends and family via social media, and access to strong peer support networks. Also: Dustin Hutchinson, National Children’s Bureau, noted to a recent select committee that young people have asked for warnings on social media sites, clear privacy settings, and simple reporting measures in apps. Carolyn Bunting, Internet Matters, said: ‘One of the most critical points is that I do not think that we can use technology and regulation to find our way out of this situation. This is really a cultural and societal issue. It is really all about education of children and parents in this space.’ Families can make use of opt-in filtering from their internet and mobile providers. They can also use ‘parental control apps’ such as FamilyTime, Qustodio, Norton Family Premier, or ESET Parental Control, used in discussion with your child, as a learning opportunity, rather than as a form of spying. The digital is now part of life, and life is not risk free, and requires a multi-stakeholder approach, including wider society.
- Social Media and Surveillance extract: Much media discourse around digital and social media is negative, claiming that it is all a ‘waste of time’, and simply provides a space for poorly-managed conflict. Within society, especially religious cultures, the ‘protestant work ethic’ has infected the discourse (van Hoorn, A. & Maseland, R., 2013, 10). The notion that users may be wasting time, assumes that all users use it the same way, and use it negatively (Goldsmith, 2016). It signifies the moral panics that accompany every new technological development: ‘If modern people worry over whether digital electronics threaten to corrupt religious experience, their grandparents worried about the intrusion of electrical light into sacred spaces, and their great-grandparents debated the permissibility of musical instruments for worship’ (Adam, 2012, 5). Adam identifies that socially permissible uses of technology are for clothing, shelter, and food preparation, and that any use for entertainment, comfort and self-indulgence is deemed impermissible (2012, 7). There is no doubt that online content is full of triviality, but no more than in everyday conversation amidst stages of relationship formation, where surface conversation topics help establish trust, defined by McCormack (2018) as ‘weak ties’, leading to ‘strong ties’ amongst mountain biking communities.”
- The pressure on physical presence together, or a physical book – how and when should we be online, (when is it helpful, what do you need to learn/know, why might you be expected to interact with others just because you happen to be physically together, but if you are physically together then you should be – that doesn’t mean don’t end up using phones – we often have a online/offline convo searching something together, etc. like that art picture … at least social media is interactive.
- how can we protect ourselves from getting lonely using social media etc. (it’s all about how we use it – see the benefits e.g. for those who are disabled – lots of technology is enabling, for those on the autistic spectrum – use online/offline) … those who are using social media as some kind of barrier/mask, etc. are likely those already struggling – amplifies what is already happening.
- See as DIFFERENT aspects of one life – have been challenging people to move from virtual/real to online/offline, but even that is not necessarily a helpful distinction – in the past, kids talking about a parent who wrote a book said it was like talking about how to write with a pencil
- Responsibility on all of us – govt, parents, schools, youth groups, etc. We shape the environment, and we can’t put all the pressure on parents, although children are looking for boundaries so also parents can’t put everything onto legislation … how much trust do we put in the social media companies – need to be questioning what they are doing, ensure they are being held accountable – they have a lot of power (but then so have other groups in the past). Need to teach strong values – what happens online is offline accelerated – if children are taught that x is wrong, and understand why – less likely to undertake unhealthy habits such as bullying. Question of addiction – v few are truly addicted (self-definition)– those who are need help … need to look at own habits (we’re role models), and demonstrate healthy use. E.g.. putting phone to one side for time together, playing board games … but not demonizing tech.
- Paranoia – many of these things are not inherently bad – and screentime should be about quality not quantity… that doesn’t mean you can’t set screentime limits but question whether you would say the same thing if your child had their nose in a book for weeks on end (as I did when I grew up as had no TV) – why is digital ‘bad’ whereas the range of things that can be done on a device these days…
And it appears that there’s a deadline of MONDAY on an APPG on young people/social media/mental health.
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.