A recent YouGov study found that anxiety amongst young people is on the rise in the social media age. 18% of 16-25 year olds believed that life wasn’t worth living, with other questions drawing particular light on social media’s negative effect. 48% felt more anxious about their future when seeing the lives of friends online, and 46% said that comparing themselves to others on social media made them feel inadequate
These are worrying statistics, particularly when paired with the fact that teen suicide is on the rise, going from 3 out of 100,000 in 2010 to 5 out of 100,000 today. This begs the question, what is to be done?
The answer is not a restriction on how much time young people spend on social media. Social media is here to stay, so usage limits simply wouldn’t work. Besides, social media has its bonuses. In the same YouGov study, a third said being on social media makes them feel like they have a voice for their generation and could influence positive change, and more than one-quarter said it made them happy. We all feel good when we get a certain number of likes, and there are so many inspiring social media campaigns out there.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t change aspects of social media’s nature so it is not as detrimental for young people. The good and the bad of social media do not have to be part and parcel.
The culture of self-harm glorification is especially damaging. I remember seeing it myself in high school, and sadly had many peers who were affected by it. This topic has come to light recently with the tragic death of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017, after viewing material relating to depression and suicide.
Some kind of censorship is needed. I’m not talking full 1984 vibes, but if Instagram can remove a nipple picture as quick as a switch, then the same technology can be used for self-harm images. The proliferation of such images only causes harm. They may be a cry for help, but there are far better ways to seek it - ways that don’t create a whole tirade of images to influence more vulnerable teenagers.
The feelings of inadequacy that are driven by social media is another issue to tackle. This is hard to avoid, as it’s human nature to compare ourselves with others. The Government recently announced children will have lessons to deal with the pressures of social media, and I think this is the best thing to do. Targeting the youngest in our society and teaching them to recognise the deceiving nature of others’ online lives, and to understand their own self-worth, is the main way to combat the problem.
Social media can be used for great things. It is the authority’s job to help filter out the most damaging parts of it and protect its young users.
However, issues such as anxiety and depression are not simply linked to social media. There are many more complex elements that play a part, such as access to GPs and general funding for mental
health care. Some limiting of social media’s influence on the matter is a great first step, but there’s still a long way to go.