Toxic relationships are complex, the people involved know what they’re doing is destructive but for some reason find it difficult to wrench themselves away and start on a new, positive pathway.
Social media is like that, everyone knows that there is a dark side, many will have been bullied or at least received abuse, but it is so seductive that we tend to keep coming back for more.
Half of young people want to disconnect from social media but a fear of missing out (FOMO) may be stopping them, with close to a third feeling pressured to keep up with everything from politics to gossip on social media.
The headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey surveyed 3,107 young people and found 51 per cent of young people have thought about logging off social media, but FOMO keeps them online. This is despite almost half (44 per cent) of respondents agreeing the content they see is more negative than positive.
A third (35 per cent) of young people also felt an urge to use social media more and more, despite them knowing its negative impacts.
One in three young people surveyed in Australia are considered to have problematic social media use (33%).
Participants said they felt pressure to use social media to keep up to date with news and current events (32 per cent) and one in three young people who took part in the survey were found to experience problematic social media use (33 per cent).
headspace CEO Jason Trethowan said: “We know young people can have really positive experiences using these platforms.
“Social media can be used to connect with others, as a creative outlet, to learn new things and to pursue interests. Overall, 41 per cent of young people we surveyed said the information they can find on social media is empowering, and two in five reported social media is also a good place to meet new friends.
Social media has also given young people the opportunity to find their voice; almost half of young people agreed it is easier to express their opinions online than in person (44%).
“The more time young people spend on social media, the less time they have for other important parts of life, like being active, getting into life, sleeping and eating well. It’s also the reasons they’re choosing to use social media that need to be addressed.
“Young people thinking of logging off might experience a fear of missing out on news, popular culture or conversations with friends. They may also worry about how going offline could impact their status or influence. It’s similar to the feeling young people might experience if they missed out on a party or social event.
“Social media can also lead us to make unhelpful comparisons between our life and the lives of others, whether they be friends, celebrities or social media influencers.
“The research shows us young people are aware of how social media can impact their mental health now and into the future, with 55 per cent of survey participants agreeing the content they post today will impact their job prospects and relationships going forward. They are telling us that they are aware of the risks and they want to switch off.
“It is important that social media companies and governments put in place the mechanisms needed to ensure users can have a safe and healthy experience.”
A majority of young people who were surveyed believed not enough was being done in terms of regulation and laws surrounding social media (55%).
There are strategies that young people can use to detoxify their social media, they can get social media savvy - remember most of what you see isn’t real, see yourself as a whole person, be mindful of your thoughts, be kind to yourself.
Clean your feed - unfollow/mute accounts that don’t make you feel good about yourself, find online communities that make you feel good, follow accounts that inspire you (in non-appearance-based ways), follow accounts that help you explore your interests/passions.
Don’t respond to cyberbullying - responding can make things worse, screenshot the evidence in case you want to report it to eSafety/have a record for later, report and block to the site it’s happening on and consider changing your privacy settings.
Set boundaries and find balance - notice and track how much time you’re spending on social media, limit screens in bedrooms and turn them off for at least one hour before bedtime, get up and move regularly, think about your setup, limit screens at mealtimes and when eating, don’t let screen time prevent you from participating in activities you need and want to do and tell your family and friends you’re slowing down/taking a break.
Image by Magnus Mueller