This week the BBC reported a worrying number of teenagers are having their mental health adversely effected by the use of smartphones. In our Blog Special, a teenager writes for Fegans about her experiences with smartphones, and gives interesting feedback to parents on what they can do to help…
Social Media. Social Media. These words are likely to elicit one of two reactions. If you are a parent of a ‘screen-obsessed teen or pre-teen’ you may be horrified by these words that have caused your loved one to become superglued to a screen and almost guaranteed to have shared the pain of the drama associated with Instagram and Snapchat etc. Or if you are the affected teen or preteen- I probably just reminded you to update your Snapchat story!
Like many 13 year old girls I have been caught up in the tide of social media. All of my friends have it, most of their parents have it… even one of the PE teachers has Snapchat! But I do not want to go with the flow- WhatsApp is all I allow myself now. I watch my friends go about their lives- 7:30 am, wake up, check SnapChat, 8:15 final check of Instagram, hand phone in at school, 5:15, open phone, check YouTube and SnapChat updates, 5:45, get home, do homework, go on online games/ Netflix, check Instagram, Tumblr. Stay on phone until 10:00pm talking to people they don’t really know on WhatsApp and SnapChat… I desperately want to avoid that useless pattern.
Why bother? I have asked various friends this and always get similar answers… Social Media ‘enables you to communicate with people around the world’, ‘can inspire you’ or even ‘help you to find friends if you have trouble with that in real life.’ But there are so many problems and flaws in social media- SnapChat deceives you into thinking that your picture is gone after it expires, but it is on the net forever, Instagram teaches jealousy and self-comparison to vulnerable children, and WhatsApp means that your friends can include you in a group with complete strangers late into the night. Nearly all users of these Social Media channels know these hazards, and still use them.
I have to admit that for a 13 year old British girl my view on Social Media is undoubtedly a rare one. It has changed considerably since what I thought only happens to other people who do stupid things online or hide in corners at school happened to me…
I am not popular, but I am no means an introvert either. I am definitely confident in myself, but many people don’t like who I am. I am a strong Christian, an optimist, and a strong believer in justice, and many of my peers have problems with those things. Therefore, I have very recently been a victim of online bullying. My ‘best friend’ sent me a nasty acronym spelling BLOCKED before blocking me, then she removed me from a WhatsApp group, and turned it into a hate rant about me. She said some nasty things, swearing, inviting others to share their own negative opinions of me, making cruel rhymes and more… and all this to a near stranger and two friends at midnight. One of my closest friends told me what had happened the next day.
After this the girl started texting me with nasty messages late at night. I started leaving my phone downstairs and my parents began checking my devices for me so that I wasn’t receiving disgusting messages when I was trying to sleep. This prevented the horror and humiliation happening late at night when I wasn’t thinking straight, and stopping me from responding without thinking things through. This is my best tip as a 13 year old for being on a device- get parents or a trusted person (preferably adult) to check your phone or tablet on a regular basis, so you’re not keeping anything inside or hiding anything.
I am not the only teen to experience online hate and gossip like this… almost every teen in the UK will experience it at some point, sadly some in a relentless way, which can result in self-harm and suicide. The amount of bullying, harassment and grooming on social media is astonishing… people hide behind social media, because they can easily pretend to be someone they’re not. The person who bullied me wasn’t powerful or popular at all in real life- but she hid behind her phone, which gave her the confidence to intimidate and upset me.
Sure, social media can be great but there are also many associated problems and distress it can cause. So, to all parents of teenagers, please try and protect us in our virtual world not just the real world. Get online savvy, take an interest in our online persona and relationships, make time for us when we need you and give us boundaries to keep us safe. We might not all appreciate it right now but in time we will be grateful.
If your teenager is worried about any mental health issues, you can read about Fegans’ Counselling services here. Also follow us on social media for updates on future ‘Teenage Years, don’t just survive thrive’, and ‘Happy child, happy parents’ events in your area.
To see the BBC video article on the negative effects of smartphones on the mental health of teenagers click here.