‘Stop demonising a space children love’
Parent Zone's Rachel Rosen presents her findings
Today, we launched our latest report, The Perfect Generation: Is the Internet Undermining Young People's Mental Health? in front of an audience of parenting and mental health experts at the headquarters of the British Medical Association in central London.
Conducted by Rachel Rosen for Parent Zone, the report focuses on the often differing views of young people and their teachers on the effects of the online world on young people’s wellbeing, with 44% of teachers stating that they think the internet is bad for young people’s mental health, compared to 28% of young people. (You can read the findings in full here.)
Speakers included consultant adolescent psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham, who gave us some background information on research into young people's mental wellbeing in the past, and looked to possible solutions to today's issues.
Citing the importance of teenagers getting enough sleep in a world full of digital distractions and the negative effect even simple eReaders can have on sleep patterns if used at night (‘Six hours or less a night can be associated with anxiety and depression,’) he quoted research that showed that banning mobiles in schools had no noticeable effect on the achievement of some pupils, but did have a noticeable positive effect on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He also posed the question that many adults find themselves asking and many young people don’t understand: ‘When did we start trusting strangers?’
‘Parents have a lack of understanding’
Rachel Rosen hosted the first of two youth panels on the day, with topics ranging from mental health support in schools to the generation gap between parents and children. Comments from the panelists included:
‘My parents don’t understand how I can talk to people I don’t know online. They think it’s scary but I think it’s one of the beneficial aspects of the internet;’ ‘I don’t think there’s much use in parents blocking content for their children as they’ll find a way around that,’ and ‘We need access to more thing to help young people in the offline world so we don’t have to look online.’
Dr Linda Papadopoulos hosted the second youth panel, spending a lot of time discussing ways in which social media affects how young people feel. Comments included:
‘I think it’s really important to remember that a lot of what you see online isn’t real.’ [Referring to the pressure many feel from seeing ‘perfect’ images of Victoria’s Secrets models and people’s posed social media photos, acknowledging the ‘faked’ aspect of many such images.]
‘A picture defines what you’re trying to be, not what you are.’
‘Posts on social media are always idealised and you usually recognise that - but if you’re suffering from mental health issues you may not be in the state of mind to realise they’re not true.’
They all agreed that parents need to take the time to understand the online world their children inhabit.
‘Adults need to be looked at. Parents have a lack of understanding - [people] should go into schools and assemblies to educate parents so they know what Snapchat and Instagram are so they can help their children.’
‘We can’t filter our way out of this’
Our expert panel
Parent Zone's editor-in-chief Geraldine Bedell was joined by mental health expert Dr Pooky Knightsmith, Lucie Russell from Young Minds, and Claire Tao from City of London School for Girls.
Dr Pooky spoke about the importance of making sure young people have the knowledge to find the right sort of help online. ‘We have to highlight safe sources of support online. Also, we have to make sure we raise children to be critical consumers [so they ask] is this a trusted source?’
Lucie Russell acknowledged the stress young people feel they are put under by parents and schools to achieve adademically, saying, ‘Schools want to do more. There are some fantastic examples of schools doing good work on wellbeing but they have this body over them demanding they meet targets.’
Commenting on the role of schools, Claire Tao pointed out that you mustn’t forget the role of parents too.
‘There is a need to address deeper issues in society. Parents are struggling to enforce boundaries,’ she said, ‘All of us are becoming enslaved by technology. How do we self-regulate ourselves as adults?
‘We’re breeding generations more concerned with self-contempt than self-love.’
In closing, Parent Zone’s CEO Vicki Shotbolt thanked everyone who took part in the research and came along to the launch to add their expertise and experience. She called for people to refocus when looking for ways to help young people navigate the online world.
‘Change the narrative! Stop focusing on internet safety - stop demonsing a space young people love, inhabit and turn to for help. That's the way forward. We can’t filter our way out of this - it’s all about digital resilience.’
By taking responsibility as parents, giving teachers adequate support and, above all, listening to young people and learning from their experiences, we can all work together to help the next generation become happier and more confident on and offline.
By Eleanor Levy
You can read the full report by clicking the link below.