That was my question but I’ve always been someone who laughs in the face of a challenge and I am not a quitter if I’m passionate about something. To give some context to my life, I am a step mother to four children. I am also the mother to a firecracker of a two year old daughter and twenty weeks pregnant with my second child. Oh and I work full time in banking.
Sadly, for the past three years a member of our family has suffered with anorexia. It is fair to say we will never know the root cause of this and maybe neither will they but it is apparent that they are not alone in the anxiety, depression, physical and mental health challenges that they have faced in their adolescent years. I’ve been to eating disorder clinics and I have always been shocked and saddened by how full these units are with adolescent girls and boys alike.
The pandemic has meant young people have spent more time at home and online. They are seeing more content than ever that is edited or filtered and it is having a disastrous effect on their self-esteem.
The stats don’t lie and in the UK, 9 out of every 10 girls with low body esteem, put their health at risk by not seeing a doctor or by skipping meals. A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health asked 14-24 year olds in the UK how social media platforms impacted their health and well-being. The survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness. More than two thirds (68%) of young people surveyed support social media platforms highlighting when a photo has been manipulated.
In trying to evoke change I have recently begun a petition on change.org to amend the social media laws to state when an image has been filtered or amended perhaps with a hashtag such as #edited or #filtered, similarly to when a celebrity is being paid to endorse an item they have to put #AD on their posts.
What I am hoping this solution could do is to help our young people and next generation to understand that these posts aren’t real and are unachievable goals to aspire to. I hope this will help them realise that their true self is more important, as well as their mental and physical health.
Since starting the petition, I have been contacted by many teachers who have told me their experiences of conversations with their students who feel under pressure from social media perfection or crippling loneliness when they feel that their face doesn’t fit. I have also been contacted by countless parents who are terrified of how body conscious their children are, with ages starting from as young as 9 and throughout their teens.
I have spoken with many adults who have suffered their own mental health challenges in their adolescent years, signing the petition because they just can’t fathom how they would have survived against the odds that the youth of today are growing up with. The more people I speak to about the petition, the more it makes me want to ensure there is change, protection and honesty to give our young people a fair chance in today’s world.
Now there is one thing I need to make crystal clear. I have nothing against social media. In fact I think it can be hugely positive to all of our lives. I also have nothing against editing or filtering, it is completely each to their own. What I have a problem with is the lack of honesty, which is causing young people to believe they need to be flawless yet striving for this is damaging their mental health. Do I believe social media is the problem for the challenges in youth mental health? No. Does it exacerbate the problem? Absolutely.
I’ll never forget being on the tube and seeing a young girl who must have been twelve or thirteen using her phone as a mirror but whilst doing so, it had a filter on. It deeply saddens me. Mental health challenges can quickly become deeply rooted and leave scars for life. Our children and young people deserve better than that.
What I have realised is that each individual can help. It really does only take you 30 seconds to put your name against a petition that could create real positive change in society. When I started this I was sat on my sofa watching tv with my partner and it was like a light switch going on. I need to do something about this. I’m a parent. An auntie. A person who cares. That is all it takes. Somebody to do something. I can’t sit back and hear once again “it’s social media’s fault”. Actually if I do nothing, then it’s my fault.
Whilst my family has been my first hand experiences of mental health challenges in young people, I have just seen and heard one too many examples to not try and do something about it. In the words of Emma Watson, If not me, who? If not now, when?