YES- Roxanna Wright

There is no doubt that social media can be a very unhealthy and dangerous place. Even as a 19-year-old, I sometimes find myself being negatively impacted from what I have seen online. Therefore, I can only wonder what kind of negative effect social media can have on naïve, innocent, and vulnerable children.

One of my worries about children and teenagers under the age of 18 consuming social media is that they are in the peak stages of learning. They have not fully matured and so cannot know of all the dangers of the internet. The lessons, experiences and environments we are in as children truly shape us as individuals, and I believe if children consume social media, it could create plenty of negative traits or issues that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The rate for UK female suicides under 25 has ‘increased by 93.8% since 2012, to its highest level in 2019’, stated Samaritan’s 2019 suicide statistics. Furthermore, ‘In Scotland, the suicide rate among young people aged 15-24 increased by 52.7%. This is the highest it’s been since 2007.’ The positive correlation between suicide figures over the past few years and the usage of social media could be argued as just coincidence, but I believe there to be some aspect of causation.

Social media is a construction. Every image and post uploaded has been carefully handpicked to create a façade of a ‘perfect’ life, and unfortunately many of the images we see are artificial. Photoshop and airbrushing are not only used by celebrities, but by the general public too, making it even harder to recognise what is real and what isn’t. Singers, actors and other influential figures that are idolised by the masses are teaching audiences an unrealistic beauty and body standard by promoting their photoshopped, surgically-altered bodies as ‘normal’ and ‘real’. This is a gateway to mental illnesses such as body dysmorphia, disordered eating and depression, and the general sense of not feeling good enough. 

Even as an adult, I sometimes find myself struggling to detach and not compare myself to people I see on social media, even though I know that it is not truly real. Consequently, I believe that if young people under the age of 18 grow up with social media, they will not only have a distorted view on beauty, they will also carry a heavy expectation of how they are supposed to look, act, dress and live their own lives.

Moreover, from the lack of regulation and monitoring of content, social media can be very dark, violent and sexualised. Images of terrorism, extremism and other violence are easily accessible on social media, and as an adult, if I see any content which is inappropriate or upsetting, I know how to report it and it would not affect me. However, if a young, impressionable child comes across aggressive behaviour online, it could leave a lasting impression. The psychologist Albert Bandura found that if younger children, particularly boys, are exposed to aggression, they are likely to imitate it.

In addition, social media is a very sexualised place, varying from celebrities posting half naked photos of themselves to pornography. By law, you must be 18 years old to buy pornography or watch porn online. So why should you be able to get social media before 18?

Not only is social media mentally damaging, it can be very dangerous. Every parent’s worst nightmare of a stranger talking to their child online can be made possible with social media. Children are taught to ‘not talk to strangers’ from a young age, but online it can be difficult to know if who you are talking to is who they say they are. The lack of policing on social media makes it very easy for people to lie about their age and identity online. Online predators or paedophiles can easily steal the identities of fellow classmates, teachers, or other trusted relations to groom children. Unfortunately, there have been many incidents involving children being groomed online by a stranger pretending to be someone else, which have resulted in rape or murder.

Moreover, even if a child recognises the situation and takes action to protect themselves, they are never truly safe. Social media holds a variety of information varying from your home phone number to your address and which school you attend. I believe that children and teenagers below the age of 18 are not truly educated  on the risks social media holds and are not informed enough on how to protect themselves. Therefore, I think banning social media for those under 18 is vital to protecting both their mental health and their lives.

NO- Andreas Lange

Before we dive into why social media should not be banned for people under the age of 18, we need some perspective on how popular social media is with young people in the UK. Research shows that 70% of children aged 12-15 in the UK are using at least one form of social media, such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, according to a 2019 report published by Ofcom this year. However, this includes 12 year olds, which shouldn’t be possible due to the fact that most social media platforms have an age limit of 13. A case study published in 2017, conducted by Comres Global, showed that ‘among under-13s, 78% were using at least one social media network, despite being below the age requirement’. These figures suggest that children are willing to break age limits to access social media. Making the proposed solution of raising the age limit as an attempt to stop youth from being exposed to social media is not a very effective one.

More importantly, social media allows for young people to voice their opinion, discuss and engage in topics that concern them.  A well known example is that of the Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg. In the summer of 2018, she began a school strike,  sitting outside Swedish parliament every Friday to encourage politicians to care more about climate change. Photos of this spread, inspiring the global Fridays For Future movement which was  joined by many teenagers. According to Time magazine, 4 million people joined the global strike for climate action on 20th September  2019.

The same year, a significant change happened among teens on social media in the UK, as a report by Ofcom discovered. In 2019, 12-15 year olds had an 18% engagement of shares and comments to support causes and organisations, compared to 12% in 2018. That is quite an increase and was dubbed the “Greta Effect” by Ofcom in their report ‘Children and parents: Media use and attitudes’, published this year. This doesn’t mean that the access to social media for under 18s was the deciding factor for her achievements, but it indicates that the access played a part in forcing international leaders to address the issues of climate change. YouTube is flooded with educational videos, from learning new hobbies to topics such as science and history. For instance, the YouTube channel “Kurzgesagt – In a nutshell” has 13 million people who subscribe to their animated explanations of science. There is a lot of useful content to be explored on social media. Today most of the video content delivered through social media doesn’t require someone to be in a specific geographic location to explore one’s interests. Those who live in more isolated areas can get access to information and concepts they otherwise may have never known. Apart from the one time investment in smartphones, tablets or computers, most social media channels that offer such content are free. Social media offers a platform for development of skills and the discovery of new interests, regardless of geographical location and economical background. However,  social media can contribute to negative mental health issues for some of their users, as a study conducted by the RHPS and reported by the BBC in 2017 finds. The participants in the study aged 14-24 reported struggling with anxiety and depression, sleep, body image, cyberbullying and the fear of missing out, due to their consumption of social media. Of the five social media platforms included in the study, Instagram turned out as the platform that was most associated with the issues above. These are completely valid reasons as to why we should consider setting an age limit of 18+ on social media. But the study also shows that these mental health issues were present in persons both above and under the suggested age limit of 18+. It’s fair to conclude that an increased age limit doesn’t really solve the issues already existing on the platform. If so, it would seem to be more wise to close down social media for everyone. Banning social media for those under 18 takes away valuable platforms for expression, community, educational content and discovery. The conclusion for now would be to not raise the age limit to 18, until we have figured out how we can solve the challenges and issues social media presents to its users across all age groups. 

Picture credit: Stacey MacNaught

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