We live in a world that’s filled with technology and the millennial youth of today are more technologically inclined than we'll ever likely experience. Schools have of course embraced technology and harnessed it in ways to enhance teaching and learning and streamline processes. However, the technology in question here is students’ use of social media and other apps that can have a detrimental impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
This has come back to the forefront of our attention after a girls’ school, Stroud High School, announced plans to implement strict control over the use of mobile phones and other smart technology such as Fitbits.
It was first assumed that the ban of Fitbits was due to students skipping meals to reach calorie targets which the school have later denied and said it was to help students feel in control of their digital lives. Despite this misconstrued information with this story, the underlying concerns over the effect these can have on wellbeing remains strong.
Social media can still seem a fairly alien concept to some, especially when we look at just how consumed young people are by it. Research has shown that social media and mental health issues in young people are linked - a recent RSPH survey of almost 1500 teens and young adults found that they were the highest group to be active on social media with 90% using various platforms.
Which platform was the most damaging?
The survey focused on five major social media networks - Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Twitter and Facebook. The results showed that despite Instagram having positive impacts on youths, such as helping them to express themselves and find self-identity, it was also ranked the worst social media site for mental health, being highly associated with anxiety, depression, bullying and ‘FOMO’ - fear of missing out.
As Instagram’s sole feature is sharing pictures it’s easy for young people to see images that represent a certain ‘perfect lifestyle’, be that holidays, family or appearance. It can lead to people making direct comparisons about themselves to others who we shouldn’t/can’t compare ourselves to.
Doing this can make people feel worthless and not good enough, causing young people to aspire to an idealised lifestyle that isn’t attainable. After all, an image posted on the site shows the highs in someone's life and can be manipulated to appear better than what it is.
How can we resolve these issues?
The survey did give suggestions as to how these social media sites could help to reduce the risks that are open to students such as pop-ups informing users when they’ve been on social media for a long time, similar to Netflix’s approach as well as brands and companies highlighting when images have been highly edited so viewers are aware.
The school has also brought to light the implications of activity trackers - despite them denying the claims that this was due to students skipping meals it does raise concern over the implications such products could have on students’ mental health, with particular reference to eating disorders and body image.
The idea of tracking activity and calories paired with superficial social media networks such as Instagram can fuel negative mental well-being and lead young people to focus on their weight, which can be dangerous in this age range with around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2000 men experiencing anorexia nervosa, which usually develops around the age of 16 or 17.
As the people who are susceptible to these risks are in the age range of students it is within a school’s wider responsibility to help educate students on the risks of excessive social media use and help to make them aware of the implications these social media sites and smart technology can have on their mental health.