Young NCB repeatedly tell us they have strong views about the impact of social media on children and young people and wanted to express these to parliamentarians with the power to make change.
When the Science and Technology Select Committee launched an inquiry on social media and young people’s health, we had the perfect opportunity for the young people to get their views heard. With help from Amber De Rosa in NCB’s participation team we consulted with two groups of young people: Young NCB and our Young Research Advisors about what they thought were the harms and benefits of social media and what changes the young people thought should be made. These responses were sent to the Committee as ‘written evidence’. The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), hosted by NCB, also submitted written evidence to the Committee.
Three weeks later the Committee wrote back. They greatly valued us sharing the views of the young people, and wanted NCB to come and give oral evidence to the Committee, representing the young people’s views. This was an exciting opportunity and would mean a panel of MPs from the Committee, chaired by the prominent MP Norman Lamb, would quiz NCB’s representative in a public evidence session in Parliament. It would be filmed and broadcast live on Parliament TV, and the transcription published as an official record of Parliament.
This was our chance to share the young people’s views and the experiences of ABA directly with MPs. We told the committee:
Harms and benefits of social media
- Young people were aware there are clear harms of social media, but also valued the benefits.
- The harmful effects of social media include effects on self-esteem, encouraging a culture of comparison, addiction, negative perception of their body image, and cyberbullying.
- The benefits included that social media helped them connect and communicate with others, and that it could be a source of self-expression and creativity. Young people also learnt from other people’s struggles and found inspiration from them.
- Young people were aware of the risks and were putting in place practical measures to reduce these, such as actively limiting social media time, using privacy and notification settings and reminding themselves social media was ‘not real’.
Underage use and inappropriate content
- The young people told us lots of minimum age limits for accessing social media sites don’t seem to work: young people can just put in a fake date of birth.
- Explicit content comes up on their accounts without them looking for it or clicking on it.
- The ‘real’ world and ‘online’ world are not separate worlds - bullying often crosses over both.
- Cyberbullying can involve a degree of separation – people can’t see the reaction of those experiencing it.
- Social media creates less of a social media ‘footprint’ and more of a social media ‘tattoo’ – it is hard to remove information posted online.
- Victims of cyberbullying can experience emotional problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness.
- Those who are victims of cyberbullying can be more likely to bully others.
- Disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN) are vulnerable to cyberbullying.
- Young people thought other young people they knew were addicted to social media.
- Some young people didn’t think they could function without social media.
- Young people thought social media can take over from ‘real life’.
Validation and body image
- Body image ‘ideals’ are often portrayed on social media and there is pressure for young people to live up to these ideals.
- Young people rating self-worth and popularity in ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ can be dangerous.
- Young people valued campaigns on social media which promoted positive body image.
What should be done?
- All schools should have to teach Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE) education, with timetabled sessions on social media, delivered as part of the curriculum. This should be delivered by educators specifically trained to do so.
- Schools should teach about positive sides of social media and that it is ok to talk about problems experienced on social media.
- School counsellors should be trained so they can talk to young people about problems on social media.
- Young people suggested doctors could provide health warnings to children about social media
- Parents should be educated about social media so they can have a dialogue with their children.
- Social media companies should warn young people of the risks, provide simple and accessible explanations for young people how to keep safe, and have simple reporting methods within apps.
- There should be campaigns on social media using ‘cool’ engaging videos to raise awareness of how to avoid the risks and maximise the benefits of social media.
The young people told us they want to get their voices heard about social media and we expressed their views directly to Parliament. Now we must watch the Committee and the Government and see what action they take.