What is the Cost of Social Media?
As part of my GP training I am currently working in children’s health. And I’ve started a bit of a social experiment. I’ve been asking all the paediatric consultants whether they let their children use social media. The answer has been largely universal.
Social media has transformed the ways we live as a society, forever altering the ways in which we communicate and relax. And this abrupt change to social discourse which has gradually developed of thousands of years is having implications.
The prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by 70% in the last 25 years in young people, a rise that co-insides with the rise of social media. It’s likely that this rise is multi-factorial, with an increase in mental health awareness leading to falling stigma and an easy communication across digital spaces. But increasingly research is exploring the casual link between social media and mental health.
Although it would benefit from more research, there is an association between social media use and anxiety and depression. This is a complex relationship involving many factors; social comparison, increased sedentary behaviour, impaired sleep quality and duration to name but a few.
However social media is a not a universal evil. It offers connection and community on a scale far beyond which we could access otherwise.
Rather it is our unsolicited use of social media that is the problem. But is this the responsibility of the individual (whom needs to exhibit more self control) or the social media companies (who deliberately fuel our addiction). Here-in lies the question that should be at the heart of our societal discourse of social media, and out of this may raise another question…how do we make it better? (Notably avoiding any derisory decline into a question of oppressive regulation or removal).
And the outcome of my social experiment? The answer was one of uncertainty in the context of moderation, acknowledging the harms of social media (but simultaneously the harms to the child of its denial).
So we are left between a rock and a hard place. But what we must remember is that we (and only we) have all the tools to find a solution.