The government has launched an inquiry into the effects of social media and screen-use on young people’s physical and mental wellbeing. The Diana Award has responded to share our feedback from working regularly with young people across the UK through our Anti-Bullying and online safety training programmes.
The government’s Science and Technology Committee is seeking perspectives and experiences from organisations working with young people on the potential impact of screen use and time spent on social media. The inquiry cites a series of reports which indicate the potential negative impact excessive screen time and tech use can have on young people’s wellbeing.
The Diana Award has gathered feedback from young people and teaching staff on the potential downsides of excessive social media use and screen time. The feedback gathered in the course of delivering our Anti-Bullying Ambassador and Be Strong Online Ambassador training to hundreds of young people every month in the UK, as well as our research into the impact of social media and technology on young people, helps to address some of the key questions set out by the inquiry about effects of social media and screen-use on young people's physical mental well-being.
It is important that the debate currently surrounding screen time takes a balanced approach. The ubiquity of technology often opens up a world of opportunities to young people: social media can be a vital source of support when facing challenges, and the communities created by like-minded individuals online can offer a place to find a sense of belonging and friendship.
"There are some benefits to social media. Using social media for up to date news, keeping in contact with friends and supporting worthwhile causes can give one a sense of purpose and inclusion. [...] There are many positive social media apps such as Wattpad which allows creative writers to express themselves anonymously. But unfortunately for every positive there are many negatives." – National Anti-Bullying Youth Board Member
Since the online world is a central and often helpful part of young people's lives it is therefore unlikely to be conductive to focus on how much screen time is 'too much': what might negatively impact one person may not have the same impact on another. At The Diana Award we aim to equip young people with the digital resilience and skills required to overcome challenges they may face online, including knowing when to take a digital break when required.
However it is clear that some of the challenges that young people often face online which can be exacerbated by the fact that some do not feel able to take a digital break. Our research and anecdotal findings highlight the pressure young people are experiencing online, the effect that excessive social media use and screen time may be having on their sense of wellbeing, and one of the main concerns which staff members in particular raise: the impact of tech use on sleep.
A recurrent finding from our research is the extent to which young people can often feel hooked to their devices. Staff and young people who have taken part in our Be Strong Online Ambassadors training, a digital resilience programme run by The Diana Award in partnership with Vodafone, are asked to share their perceptions of a variety of online issues affecting young people. 'Excessive tech use' is one of the issues most frequently experienced:
- 70% of young people had seen their peers affected by excessive tech/internet use or feeling ‘hooked’ to a device at least a few times a month, with 35% having witnessed this ‘daily’
- 75% of staff members had seen students experiencing excessive tech/internet use or feeling ‘hooked’ to a device at least a few times a month, with a quarter seeing this on a daily basis
N= staff members: 116, young people aged 11-18: 974
"I think that there IS such thing as excessive use of social media. Young people are using phones for hours every day and it is steadily increasing. It is even affecting school work and exam scores" – National Anti-Bullying Youth Board member, 13
Similarly in an online survey from The Diana Award, conducted amongst 852 under 18’s to gauge the top issues affecting young people online, 50% chose ‘technology addiction/Feeling ‘hooked’ to my devices and the internet’, 70% chose ‘social pressure to get likes or have more followers, and 33% chose ‘pressure to always post content and photos online’.
These findings hint at the social pressure which can arise as a result of the blurring of boundaries between the on and offline worlds. This pressure can take different forms; namely, to be constantly available, to keep up communication and to present a certain image online.
A 2017 YouGov poll conducted by The Diana Award in partnership with ASKfm revealed the extent of pressure to be connected online:
- 53% of young people had felt they had to stop what they were doing (e.g. reading, studying, watching TV etc.) to respond to a message online in the past six months
- 49% had felt the need to reply to people's messages quickly (e.g. to keep up with a Snapchat Streak etc.) in the past six months
- 63% agree that people behave differently online to the way they do offline
- Base: GB children aged 13-17 online (589)
This distinction between online and offline personalities and behaviour is something which our National Anti-Bullying Youth Board describe as a source of tension:
"Social media puts a lot of pressure on young people to act a certain way (keeping up [Snapchat] streaks etc.) and also top look a certain way. With celebrities and seemingly our whole society looking flawless on social media (and NOT in real life) makes us young people feel like we are not good enough which pressures us into harmful behaviour."
– National Anti-Bullying Youth Board member, 13
"We are being bombarded with mixed messages of ‘love yourself’ and ‘be like this person’. It’s far too confusing to distinguish what is actually important in life when the only thing you are presented with are post about ‘how to be utter perfection’ and ‘how to embrace inner perfection’. The stress of trying to be the same and yet individual is massively stressful and causes people of all ages to prioritise badly leading to even more stress" – NI YB member, 15
Our YouGov poll also found that 31% of young people had felt they needed to be active online when they were tired in the past six months. In the course of our Be Strong Online Ambassadors training, staff members and students frequently cite internet use as one of the main contributing factors to lack of sleep and tiredness in school:
- 69% of young people had seen other students in school affected by tiredness in school as a result of tech/internet use at least a few times a month, with 33% claiming to have witnessed this ‘daily’.
Amongst staff members, 88% had been aware of students in school experiencing tiredness as a result of tech/internet use at least a few times a month, with 28% seeing this on a daily basis.
N= staff members: 116, young people aged 11-18: 974
Young people frequently tell us that they feel the need to check their phones during the night, sometimes multiple times, since failing to do so results in feeling 'out of the loop' by the morning with group chats and social media updates. One staff member explained how his group of Be Strong Online Ambassadors explored the subject with students in school as part of an information session on the theme of Digital Detox. During this session students shared openly that they wake up regularly during the night to check their phones:
"I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s actually happening.[...] I think a lot are coming in tired and, you know, fear of missing out, worrying that they’re not responding to something or finding something funny or reacting, and they’re turning up tired. Monday we spend a lot of time in senior leadership sorting out things that happened over the weekend through social media."
- Be Strong Online lead staff member
This is a recurrent issue which emerges in conversations with young people during our training, which we believe it is important to explore with students as part of a balanced online education. By giving young people the tools they need to mitigate pressure they feel to be constantly connected, they will be better equipped to recognise when their tech use is negatively impacting their sleep and consequently physical and mental well-being.
At The Diana Award we believe that young people are the best agents for change in their schools, communities and online. Our peer-to-peer programmes equip young people to help others tackle issues they are facing online, whether it is cyberbullying and online negativity or other challenges such as feeling hooked or pressured to be online.
We are pleased that the Internet Safety Strategy green paper highlighted the benefits of peer-led learning and as set out in our response to the green paper, feel that young people themselves should be empowered to equip their peers with the skills required to navigate the online world safely.
We would recommend embedding peer-to-peer education and clear, practical resources for schools into key messaging which may arise as a result of this inquiry, as well as ensuring collaboration and consistency of approach with the Internet Safety Strategy.
ABOUT OUR WORK
The Diana Award
The Diana Award is a charity legacy to Diana, Princess of Wales’ belief that young people have the power to change the world. We aim to foster, develop and inspire positive change in the lives of young people and we are proud to have the support of TRHs The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Our Programmes: • Mentoring: Building the resilience and character of young people • Anti-Bullying: Engaging young people to change the attitudes, behaviours and culture of bullying • The Award: Awarding young role models for selflessly creating and sustaining positive change Peer-led approaches to tackling bullying
Through peer-led programmes such as the Anti-Bullying Ambassador Programme, young people not only educate each other but also help staff members build the skills and confidence they need to help young people tackle bullying and build healthy relationships within their school and local community. For example, our research shows that 98% of Anti-Bullying Ambassadors gain a better understanding of how to help support another student who is being bullied and 100% of staff members felt more confident in their ability to identify the causes of bullying behaviour and how to address it.
The rationale behind a peer-led approach is grounded in the notion that bullying issues often originate from peer groups and that young people often find it easier to confide in one another, rather than in adults. For example, research has found that 74% of young people would tell a friend about bullying experiences compared to only 47% of young people who would prefer to tell a school official (Cassidy et al, 2009). This was reinforced by Topping who noted that peer support systems encourage young people to communicate with one another in the ‘vernacular’, absent from the ‘authoritarian tone’ that adults may exude, to help resolve their problems together (Topping, 2006).
Furthermore, in a report examining cyberbullying and its impact on young people’s emotional health and wellbeing, Helen Cowie highlighted research that “peer leaders in school played a part in the prevention of cyberbullying” by raising awareness of bullying in school and establishing “bullying intervention practices”.
The Diana Award Anti-Bullying Ambassador Programme
The Anti-Bullying Ambassador Programme empowers students and staff through a holistic and peer-led approach to tackle bullying. In 2011, the programme received funding from The Department for Education (DfE) and has trained over 25,000 young people across the UK and Ireland.
Through regional training days and bespoke visits, schools are trained alongside other schools in the local area and students become Anti-Bullying Ambassadors in their schools. The training events help Anti-Bullying Ambassadors and other young people by building their skills and confidence to change the attitudes, behaviours, and culture of bullying, both online and offline.
Following their training, the Anti-Bullying Ambassadors help to educate their peers on the facts behind bullying, lead on anti-bullying campaigns, promote a culture which celebrates and tolerates difference and help keep their peers safe both online and offline. 98% of Anti-Bullying Ambassadors felt that the programme had provided young people with a stronger voice to tackle bullying, and 100% of staff members were confident in their ability to recognise the different forms of bullying and how to address bullying issues in their school.
Anti-Bullying Ambassadors have run campaigns in their school to raise awareness of bullying issues and to become positive role models to their peers.
For an example of Anti-Bullying Ambassadors in action running online safety campaigns across the UK and Ireland click here. For more information please visit www.antibullyingpro.com
The Be Strong Online Ambassadors Programme
Be Strong Online is a peer-led digital resilience programme to help young people explore the digital world safely. The programme was developed by The Diana Award and Vodafone and is run in partnership with schools. Be Strong Online includes free resources on 10 learning modules, covering online issues such as cyberbullying, digital footprint, digital detox, selfies and self-esteem and social media. Each module contains the resources young people need to deliver short, interactive sessions on these topics with their peers.
Since 2016 over 1500 young people and staff members have been trained as Be Strong Online Ambassadors. These training events explore the issues currently facing young people online, what the role of a Be Strong Online Ambassador is, and how to roll out the programme in schools and deliver peer-led activities. 95% of Be Strong Online Ambassadors were confident that as a result of the training they could help students be safer online, and 95% of staff members were confident that the Be Strong Online Ambassadors programme could run successfully in their school and make a positive change.
Be Strong Online Ambassadors have run campaigns in their school to raise awareness about digital resilience and to become positive online role models to their peers.
For more information on the programme please visit www.antibullyingpro.com/bestrongonline
“I’ve learned how to deal with bullies online. I’ve also learned how to present a lesson to others. I think it’s helped improve my confidence with speaking in front of people and it’s also helped raise awareness around school that we need to be more careful about what we post online. I’ve enjoyed it because it was really fun. The most fun part was being around other schools and meeting new people. We’re all together and learning about being safe online.”
- Be Strong Online Ambassador, Liskeard School (Cornwall)
Facebook has supported The Diana Award since 2010. As part of the partnership, Facebook supports The Diana Award in training their ‘Anti-Bullying Ambassadors’ in schools across the UK, and also supports the charity in the production of national events during UK Anti-Bullying Week where the Facebook safety team trains over 500 young people and teachers on safety on Facebook. Facebook also provides safety training for each new Youth Board that is elected every year. Last year Facebook launched a resource ‘Anti-Bullying Activism on Facebook’ – a guide for schools who would like to set up their own anti-bullying initiatives on Facebook. To find out more about The Diana Award’s partnership with Facebook go to: http://facebook.antibullyingpro.com/.
The Diana Award is one of the six European partners who co-created the ENABLE (eliminate bullying in learning and leisure environments) project. ENABLE aims to prevent bullying and cyberbullying in learning and leisure environments and contribute to the wellbeing of children aged 11 to 14. ENABLE does this through focusing on establishing Peer Support schemes in school and encouraging social and emotional skills development (SEL).
Co-funded by the DG Justice of the European Commission, ENABLE has drawn on the knowledge and expertise of 6 European partners and 12 Think Tanks members to shape this innovative project which is currently being implemented in schools across 5 European countries (UK, Croatia, Greece, Denmark, Belgium).
ENABLE’s unique approach combines social and emotional learning (SEL) with Peer Support. Its resources and training provide staff with the skills, knowledge and confidence to establish and lead on an effective student Peer Support scheme in their school and develop their students’ social and emotional skills. All of the resources have been developed so they can be used by educators straight away and no direct training is required.
The Diana Award hosts a set of free Peer Support resources which provide staff with a step-by-step guide to setting up a student Peer Support scheme in their setting. Also available through the project are 10 social and emotional learning lesson plans and an advice pack on dealing with bullying for parents and carers. These resources help schools put measures in place to reduce cyber bullying and offline bullying, develop students’ social and emotional skills and encourage the whole school community to celebrate difference and diversity. For more information please visit http://www.antibullyingpro.com/enable-anti-bullying-resources/
Together with Stagecoach, The Diana Award Anti-Bullying Campaign have launched an exciting partnership to deliver a bus tour promoting Anti-Bullying in schools and youth groups across the UK.
The #BeNiceBus tour will visit schools/youth groups to provide a safe space and comprise of walk-on workshops delivered to young people aged 11-18, to explore the impact of cyberbullying. These interactive workshops will encourage young people to think about their actions, offer advice to young people experiencing cyberbullying, and invite students to sign an anti-bullying pledge.
Ask.FM partnered with The Diana Award in 2015. As part of the partnership, both organisations reaffirmed a commitment to empowering thousands of young people across the UK and Ireland to make positive choices on social media in order to build an online culture that provides the support and insights they are seeking through a peer-led approach.
This is achieved through safety resources to help young people become more aware of the impact that online communications have on themselves and others. One of these resources, “The Power of Questions” is a 45-minute interactive session that focuses on raising awareness about the opportunities and possible issues with online anonymity as well as what young people can do if they experience cyberbullying. Other resources are articles ranging from ‘what to do if you’re being cyberbullied’, ‘what to do if you receive negative comments’, ‘what to do if you’re worried about your digital footprint’ through to ‘what to do if you are setting up a brand new social media account’. For more information please visit http://askfm.antibullyingpro.com/
The Diana Award has worked together with ASOS since 2015 to run self-esteem and body confidence workshops for young people. The #MySenseOfSelf project explores young people’s perceptions of body image and in particular the connection between social media and self-esteem.
Body image dissatisfaction in the UK has never been higher, and a huge amount of young people struggle with the issue. Around half of girls and up to one third of boys have dieted to lose weight, and over half of bullying experienced by young people in a recent study was because of appearance.
The Diana Award teamed up with ASOS to create a teaching resource and workshop which was delivered to over 800 young people across the UK in 2017. For more information on this project please visit http://www.antibullyingpro.com/asos-sign-up/