Teenagers’ mental health is being damaged by heavy social media use, a report has found.
Research from the Education Policy Institute and The Prince’s Trust said wellbeing and self-esteem were similar in all children of primary school age.
Boys and girls’ wellbeing is affected at the age of 14, but girls’ mental health drops more after that, it found.
A lack of exercise is another contributing factor – exacerbated by the pandemic, the study said.
Heavy social media use was linked to negative wellbeing and self-esteem, regardless of a young person’s mental state, with more girls experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness.
“Those who feel worse may turn to social media for solace or community,” Dr Amy Orben, research fellow at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, said of the research.
“It’s not a vacuum, it works both ways.”
The research uses data from 5,000 young people in England from the Millennium Cohort Study.
Focus groups were also carried out in November to examine the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on these ages.
Family income, exercise and poor maternal health also contributed to young people’s mental state, the study found.
But regular exercise had a positive impact on both genders, the report said.
“Participation in activities and sports will have fallen considerably due to school closures and lockdown, likely adversely affecting mental health and wellbeing,” it added.
It also made several recommendations, including a £650m package to schools for wellbeing funding after the pandemic and an increase in mental health teaching in schools.
Young people should also have better access to resources for mental health support and physical activity, it said.
Instagram is adding safety measures designed to protect teenagers from unwanted direct messages from adults.
Older users will be able to privately message teenagers who follow them only.
And messages will be overlaid with a notice reminding teenagers they need not respond to anything that makes them uncomfortable.
The measures will work only if accounts have users’ correct ages, which young people sometimes lie about to avoid restrictions on what they can see.
Likewise, predators might pretend to be younger than they actually are.
Instagram said it was developing “new artificial intelligence and machine learning technology” to help tackle the challenge of age verification, especially in cases where account holders have not been honest.
The minimum age for using Instagram is officially 13.
The platform also said it now offered young account holders the option to make their accounts private when they created them.
“If the teen doesn’t choose ‘private’ when signing up, we send them a notification later on, highlighting the benefits of a private account and reminding them to check their settings,” it blogged.
In January, rival TikTok announced:
The UK’s proposed Online Harms Bill would give regulator Ofcom the power to block online services that fail to protect children – but it is unlikely to become law before 2022.
By Zoe Kleinman, Technology reporter
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