The government tasked medical experts on drawing up a limit on the maximum amount of time young people should spend on social media. The striking thing is that this anxiety is not experienced in the same way by young people themselves, by and large they’re aware of the risks in the online world and believe that they are able to monitor them.
In my work with young people I asked them whether they see themselves experiencing stress – they agree the teenage years are a time of high stress but not because of social media. The things they identify as stressful are exams and pressure from school, they also talk about parental expectations and sometimes pressure from friends. The digital world comes low down in their list of things that create stress and anxiety.
It’s really important to know that there is no reliable scientific evidence to support this link. It does appear to be the case that certainly among teenage girls mental health problems such as a depression are on the rise, there is no clear link between this and the use of social media. We cannot ignore the fact that there are teenagers who are vulnerable, these individuals may be isolated they may have to deal with difficult family situations or they may have experienced trauma of one sort or another.
For these young people the internet may provide an outlet for a safe place to go for support. The online world may provide a way of sharing experiences with others who are facing similar adversity, these individuals may be less able to manage the risks of the digital world or they may more easily be drawn to some of the more dangerous internet sites.
Professionals should be alert to these vulnerabilities and do all they can to provide extra support in the use of social media and other Internet activities for this group.
It’s important to be clear that the Internet provides many positive experiences not just for teenagers but for those of all ages, these include instant access to information, ease of communication, a means of sharing and networking with groups of friends, the medium for an extraordinary range of creative activities including art, music, design and a multitude of other possibilities.
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