By Natascha Ng
Fears that the social media usage of young people is negatively impacting their health has been enough to ruffle the feathers of the health secretary this week. For the first time ever, we’re seriously considering research into what counts as ‘appropriate’ usage of social media for children. It is hoped that these guidelines will be understood like those of recommended alcohol levels – now a norm in society but something we weren’t always accustomed to. Facebook, the largest social media site ever, requires that you must be thirteen to create an account. This is another limitation, but it’s been deemed appropriate since it was introduced. So where does this differ?
Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat are considered ways to express yourself creatively, especially those who lack normal social outlets. The notion that this could have a negative impact on our minds has never been rejected, but simultaneously never considered detrimental enough to warrant funded research in our government before.
So some of us are angry. Social media provides an opportunity for creativity to flourish (whether this is your your canvas prints on Etsy or that weekly tweet moaning about the same lecture) and creates a wider community in which young people can find other likeminded individuals. It can be a great source of education; we breed young political activists through the likes of the Guardian and the Independent, young authors on WordPress and other sites that gauge children’s interests where parents haven’t been able to.
On the other hand, the information that children receive is not filtered and their vulnerability can be targeted. For parents, one of the biggest worries is emotional investment, developing an addiction to the validation of likes and responses. So is it just generational panic – or are we too used to the negative effects to consider change?
There are many questions left; at what age we can decide for ourselves, should parents or the government judge this, and how this would actually be enforced. Social media sites need to work with parents to create tools that allow them to intervene, should it be necessary. Whilst I agree that social media can be damaging to mental health, I am also aware of the pressure on parents to monitor new technology. Often they don’t want to restrict their children for them to consequently be left out of social situations. If a universal guideline was produced it ultimately would be down to parents to enforce it, and this is a risky rule to expect consistent results with.