Last month The Science and Technology Committee of the British Parliament has announced the launch of an investigation on the influences of social media and screen-use on the health of kids and adolescents. Among its findings numbers showing that adolescents who are too active on social media have a 13% more chance to suffer from depression. This disturbing news is backed up by a 33% increase in reports on depression symptoms, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. The phenomenon is especially concerning because it is proof of two major trends: first, the increase in internet usage amongst kids, second, the decrease in the age of kids exposed to content online.
Social media in particular is increasing the exposure of youths to social ideals and norms, amongst them the beauty standard. On Facebook alone over ten million pictures are uploaded every hour- most of which do not reflect an authentic image of reality but a carefully curated set of ideals. Add to that the exposure of youths to content which encourages them to exercise and start a diet and what you’ll get is a direct influence on body image (according to a research published at the end of 2017 by the British Youth Council). Still, the research claims there are some positive aspects to social media, since it’s a space which allows youths to create and showcase content which actually challenges social norms (such as the case of body-positivity beauty blogs).
Another study published by Chicago University last April found that even the presence of a smartphone leaves less available resources for other actions and undercuts cognitive performance. Through an experiment the study found that even when people succeed in resisting the temptation of checking their phone its mere presence will still lower the capacity of its owner. If that’s not enough then the more dependent a person is on their phone the more likely his decision making and cognitive capacity to be influenced by the phone’s mere presence (without actual use of the device).
Israel is another country realizing that intense exposure to social media can have adverse effects on youths. Thus this February local papers have announced the Health Ministry’s intention to establish a professional committee on the subject (no official announcement has been made yet). The papers claim the ministry has appointed Prof. Gil Zalsman, Director of the Geha Mental Health Center and chair president of the national council for suicide prevention to lead the committee. In the coming months more appointments are expected to be made, committee members ranging from doctors, psychologists and experts on addiction. The committee is meant to measure the extent of the phenomenon and its influence while drafting recommendations on ways to handle the situation for parents and professionals alike.