The Commons' Science and Technology Committee is currently conducting an inquiry on the impact of social media and screen use on young people's health – and oral evidence was published on 13th November 2018.
It's a subject of much interest at the moment as there is, a) a reported increase in mental health issues amongst young people, and b) the impact of increased 24/7 access to the internet via smartphones, which can't be ignored. Both of these things have evolved relatively quickly and the committee is examining the connection between them.
Taking part in this discussion were Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England; Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director of Strategy and Research at Ofcom; and Natasha Devon, a Body Image and Mental Health Campaigner.
The group discussed a wide range of matters and Natasha Devon highlighted that although social media has undoubtedly affected the way young people think and behave, it isn't always the cause of everything bad – and she warned that sometimes we focus so much on social media that we aren't giving enough consideration to other factors that are problematic to young people, such as poverty, decreased life chances, a changed educational focus that has erased creative subjects that allow expression from the curriculum, and so on.
Amongst the many points she raised, Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, spoke about the fact that many people usually give a false representation of themselves on social media (think perfect selfies, fabulous holidays and so on) and young people feel pressure to live up to this standard, even though it isn't reality. She also spoke about cyberbullying and the fact that although social media amplifies this, it hasn't caused bullying; bullying has always been around in one form or another.
On the matter of cyber bullying, Yih-Choung Teh from Ofcom suggested that parents could play a larger part in improving their children's lives by having stricter rules in place at home whereby phones were kept out of bedrooms over night for general wellbeing, which would also provide some respite to those who are being bullied.
A key focus of the session was to identify potential ‘next steps’ to tackle some of the aspects that are damaging to young people's mental health which were highlighted during the inquiry, such as the responsibilities of internet providers to children, and whether we can share experiences with other countries to provide solutions. Although, as Yih-Choung Teh pointed out, the online world changes very quickly and this makes it difficult for legislation to keep up.
It will be interesting to see what the final outcome of the inquiry will be and the actions that it will decide to implement when the final report is published in early 2019. Watch this space for an update…
Click here to watch the discussion.