Anxiety on rise among the young in social media age

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The number of young people in the UK who say they do not believe that life is worth living has doubled in the last decade, amid a sense of overwhelming pressure from social media which is driving feelings of inadequacy, new research suggests, as recently published in The Guardian.

In 2009, only 9% of 16-25-year-olds disagreed with the statement that “life is really worth living”, but that has now risen to 18%. More than a quarter also disagree that that their life has a sense of purpose, according to a YouGov survey of 2,162 people for the Prince’s Trust, a charity that helps 11 to 30-year-olds into education, training and work. Youth happiness levels have fallen most sharply over the last decade in respect of relationships with friends and emotional health, the survey found, while satisfaction with issues like money and accommodation have remained steady.

The Prince’s Trust has been gauging youth opinion for 10 years and found that just under half of young people who use social media now feel more anxious about their future when they compare themselves to others on sites and apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. A similar amount agree that social media makes them feel “inadequate”. More than half (57%) think social media creates “overwhelming pressure” to succeed.

The gloomy view on life being taken by a growing minority of young people comes amid reports of an increased rate of teenage suicide. It was reported on Sunday that official statistics due later this year will show that suicides now occur at more than five in 100,000 teenagers in England. That contrasts with a figure of just over three in 100,000 in 2010.

“Social media has become omnipresent in the lives of young people and this research suggests it is exacerbating what is already an uncertain and emotionally turbulent time,” said Nick Stace, UK chief executive of The Prince’s Trust. “Young people are critical to the future success of this country, but they’ll only realise their full potential if they believe in themselves and define success in their own terms. It is therefore a moral and economic imperative that employers, government, charities and wider communities put the needs of young people centre stage.”

There were positive feelings about social media too. A third of people said being on social media makes them feel like they can have a voice for their generation and influence positive change, and more than a quarter said it made them happy. However, playing sport (44%), earning enough money to live how they want (62%) and spending time with family (77%) were more likely to drive happiness. Four out of 10 young people said they felt more confident online than they do in person, but that rises to almost half among the youngest age group, 16 to 18-year-olds.

The findings follow public pressure on the government to toughen the regulation of social media companies, which use algorithms to target users with tailored content. Ministers have asked the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, to draw up advice on social media usage for childrenamid growing concerns about links between its excessive use and mental health problems among children.

Spending time with family was more likely to drive happiness among young people surveyed than social media

Education secretary Damian Hinds, said at the weekend that social media companies have a “moral duty” to act. He announced that children will have lessons in how to deal with the pressures of social media.

Tskenya Frazer, 24, a habitual Instagram and Twitter user until recently, said she would “feel bad” about her own life when looking at posts from friends about holidays, work promotions, new cars or homes. It also made her question her body image.

“As soon as I woke up I would be on Instagram, scrolling through,” she said. “I would be on a page with a girl with the most perfect body.”

“Social media reinforces those feelings of not being good enough, that you’re too fat, and that is toxic,” Frazer said. “Social media doesn’t induce those feelings but it heightens them.”

The Prince’s Trust creates an index based on happiness and confidence which stood at 73 in 2009. It is now at its lowest level yet at 69.

Photographs courtesy of Mixmike/Getty Images and Alamy

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