If we are serious about addressing the alarming worsening of teens’ mental health, we must reduce their social media use.
Reducing social media use significantly improves body image in teens, young adults: study – The Globe and Mail
Reducing social-media use leads to improved body image among young people, according to the results of a new Canadian study.
The study, published on Thursday in the journal Psychology of Popular Media, found teens and young adults felt better about their appearance and body weight after they cut their use of social media by 50 per cent for three weeks.
“In a nutshell, when it comes to social-media use among teens, less is more,” said Gary Goldfield, a senior scientist at Ottawa’s CHEO Research Institute for pediatric research, who led the study.
More than 80 per cent of young people in Canada spend more than two hours a day using social media, Dr. Goldfield said. The participants of their study were using it for nearly three hours a day, which is generally considered excessive, he said.
While trying to eliminate social-media use is not a realistic or viable solution, their research highlights that moderation should be the goal, Dr. Goldfield said.
The study examined 220 university undergraduate students, ages 17 to 25, who regularly used social media on their smartphones and had symptoms of depression or anxiety. During the first week, the participants were instructed to use social media as usual. Half of them were then instructed to limit their social-media use to an hour a day for the next three weeks, while those in the control group were not.
During the three weeks, participants in the first group reduced their social-media use by about half, to an average of 78 minutes a day, while the control group averaged 189 minutes a day. Those who reduced their social-media use showed improvements on test scores of how they regarded their appearance and body weight. The control group showed no significant changes. The researchers did not find significant differences between genders.
While they did not examine the potential reasons for this effect, the researchers suggested limiting social-media use may reduce people’s engagement in unfavourable comparisons and exposure to unattainable beauty standards, leading to a healthier body image.
Given that body dissatisfaction is a strong predictor of eating disorders, substance use and other mental disorders among young people, Dr. Goldfield said their findings suggest reducing social-media use could be a helpful component in treating and preventing body image and eating-related issues in high-risk groups, such as young people with emotional distress.
Media in general, not just social media, have an impact on the attitudes that young people and children, as young as age 3, develop toward their bodies, said Kara Brisson-Boivin, director of research at the non-profit media literacy organization MediaSmarts, who was not involved in the study.
But social media and other platforms that use algorithms to recommend content, such as video-sharing sites, play a unique role in terms of the environments they create and the control users have over what they see, Dr. Brisson-Boivin explained. These platforms use a combination of information about who users say they are online and what they do online to recommend content, which for teens, can include messages around body types and what it means to be beautiful, she said.
“Our capacity to communicate with an algorithm when we find that content to be problematic is limited,” she said.
It’s important for parents to talk to their children, starting from as early in life as possible, about gender, body stereotypes and body image, to view media together when they’re young, and to remind them that the content they see on social platforms is created by people with motivations, typically to advertise to them, and is often highly produced and edited, she said.
“The kinds of content they are seeing on TikTok and Instagram many times, if not more often than not, is just as curated and designed as a Hollywood film,” she said.
Social media is devastating teens’ mental health. Here’s what parents can do.
The connection is well-established. Abundant research has linked depression and self-harm to frequency of social media use. And a new study from the American Psychological Association shows that cutting back helps teens feel better. Companies are aware of this; Facebook executive-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that the company’s own research found that use of their platforms was linked to anxiety, depression and body image issues in teens.
Federal health data highlight why this is so crucial. In 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing their usual activities. The crisis is particularly pronounced in girls; nearly 3 in 5 teen girls reported persistent feelings of sadness, an increase of over 60 percent since 2011.
Indeed, social media is creating a “perfect storm” for girls, Jelena Kecmanovic, a psychotherapist and adjunct psychology professor at Georgetown University, told me. “Their tendency to be perfectionist and hard on themselves during their tween and teen years gets magnified thousands of times in the online culture of comparison,” she said.
The trouble with online interactions is also what they are replacing. A 2022 survey found that average daily screen use increased further during the pandemic and is now more than 5½ hours among children ages 8 to 12 and a whopping 8 hours and 39 minutes for teens ages 13 to 18. That’s time that previously was spent engaging in-person relationships and on healthier activities such as playing outside, sports and sleep.
Pediatrician Michael Rich, who co-founded and directs the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, explained to me that he treats teens who “struggle with physical, mental and social health issues” from excessive social media use. He has seen straight-A students’ grades plummet and young adults struggle to forge relationships after entering college.
Given the magnitude of the problem, solving it might seem daunting for parents. Nevertheless, here are four steps they can take:
Create spaces free from screens.
Kecmanovic suggests establishing guardrails, such as taking away screens during meals and before bedtime. Parents can also limit their kids’ social media use to the shared family space, “not behind locked doors, and definitely not until 2 a.m. in their bedroom” when they should be sleeping.
Given the ubiquity of technology and its use in school curriculums, it might be hard to enforce a screen time limit. Instead, Rich advises setting a minimum time without screens. “That becomes a more practical way to offer our kids a rich and diverse menu of experiences, which can include screens but shouldn’t be dominated by them or become the default behavior,” he said.
Mauritius media guide
The media scene in Mauritius is divided in two, with a highly politicised media, including the national broadcaster, and elsewhere media outlets which can be outspoken but sometimes veer towards sensationalism, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
US-based NGO Freedom House says that the media regulatory agency lacks independence and disproportionately targets opposition media.
Under 2018 changes to the law, journalists can face prison sentences for content that causes “inconvenience, distress, or anxiety”.
Television is the most popular medium. State-owned Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) radio and TV generally reflect government thinking. MBC is funded by advertising and a TV licence fee.
Two media groups – Le Mauricien Ltd and La Sentinelle Ltd – dominate the press scene.
BBC World Service is available via a mediumwave (AM) relay (1575 kHz). Radio France Internationale is relayed on FM.
There were 919,000 internet users by December 2021, comprising 72% of the population (Internetworldstats.com).
Home Office delays Windrush grants amid row over social media posts
The Home Office has decided not to award £150,000-worth of grants to Windrush community organisations, amid internal disagreement about whether funds should be given to groups that have expressed criticism of the government on social media.
In December, civil servants approved applications from 15 organisations to receive about £10,000 of funding each from the Windrush community engagement fund, a grant established in the wake of the 2018 citizenship scandal.
However, their decision was blocked by the home secretary’s private office, because advisers were concerned that two of the groups approved for funding had retweeted posts expressing criticism of the Home Office.
The Windrush National Organisation, the UK’s largest Windrush community organisation, and the University of Leicester Pro Bono clinic, working with the Highfields community centre, both had their grant approval questioned.
Discussions over whether or not they could be removed from the recommended list caused a long delay to the grant process, and eventually the department had decided to scrap the allocation of the fund for 2022-23, a Home Office source said.
The source said there was nothing abusive in the contentious tweets, which consisted of retweeted articles from the Guardian and the Independent covering government immigration policy and pieces highlighting issues around race.
The Windrush community engagement fund was set up to support community groups to raise awareness of the government’s compensation and documentation scheme, and of the Home Office’s other initiatives to support those affected by the department’s Windrush errors, which led to thousands of legal UK residents being mistakenly classified as immigration offenders.
Applicants to the cancelled fund received letters from the Home Office stating: “We are writing to inform you that we are unfortunately withdrawing the competition for this financial year and no funding will be awarded.
“Unfortunately, we have experienced delays with our internal assessment of the latest community engagement fund (CEF) bids leaving successful applicants very little time to spend money before the end of the financial year.”
The letter added: “We will relaunch the competition next financial year. We know this is disappointing news.”
Asked at a public meeting last week about the decision not to distribute £150,000-worth of grants, Angela Wilson, a Home Office civil servant and head of the Windrush external engagement team, said: “This was to do with internal problems with our assessment criteria.”
Applicants to the fund responded with frustration at the time wasted in submitting applications for small grant allocations that were then not distributed.
The source said the eligibility criteria were likely to be rewritten for next year, to request that applicants be prepared to “work constructively” with the Home Office.
Bishop Desmond Jaddoo, the chair of the Windrush National Organisation, was unaware of the context behind the cancellation of the 2022-23 grants. He said his organisation had had a constructive working relationship with the Home Office to date.
“Community-led engagement is intrinsic to righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal and any available community engagement fund must be timely and commensurate to support the much-needed engagement requirements across the affected diverse communities in the UK and abroad,” he said.
Laura Bee, from the Leicester University Pro Bono clinic, which assists people to make applications to the Windrush compensation scheme, said she had not been told anything about the background to the “disappointing” decision to cancel the fund allocations for last year.
Her organisation had not put anything on social media about Windrush, but the Highfields community centre, where they were planning to hold events, and with whom they had submitted a joint application, had occasionally retweeted articles about Home Office policy.
“Our clinic is well-placed to raise awareness about the compensation scheme and help potential claimants to access the scheme. Our student advisers really value the opportunity to carry out this important work,” she said.
A Home Office spokesperson said the decision to withdraw the fund had been taken due to “internal delays”, and that the scheme would be relaunched in the new financial year. “We continue to provide comprehensive engagement and information to organisations to enable them to support affected individuals,” the spokesperson said.
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