- 15 November 2019
Tanya Goodin, founder of Time To Log Off and author of OFF. Your Digital Detox for a Better Life and Stop Staring at Screens, reflects on how young people are leading the charge to disconnect more and get a healthier balance with social media and screens.
Nearly half of UK adults are reported in the latest Ofcom report as saying their lives would be 'boring' without the Internet. But despite now relying on our devices to keep us entertained at almost every waking moment of the day there's increasing evidence of an appreciation of the downsides of our digital lives.
Ofcom also revealed that 15% of UK adults say their smartphones make them feel they are always at work and more than half admitted that their device had a negative impact on face-to-face conversations with friends and family.
Nowhere are we seeing these potential pitfalls in our ever more digitally dominated lives than for the most vulnerable section of our society - children and young adults.
A 2016 survey by Common Sense Media of 1,240 US parents and their children found 50% of the children in the study admitted that they were addicted to their smartphones. Unsurprisingly, it found that 66% of parents felt their children used mobile devices too much.
Perhaps more unexpectedly, 52% of children agreed with them. If children themselves are reporting unease at the way their devices create dependence in them than it's more than time we took a closer look.
Social media is the big destination for children and young adults when they go online - YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram are where Gen Z (the cohort below the much-maligned Millennials, born mid 1990s to to early 2000s) spend the majority of their onscreen hours.
Connection with friends and family, being part of a community and finding others who share niche interests and agendas are all part of the attraction for these digital natives who have never known a world without social media.
As someone who has spent the past 20 years working in the digital world and the past six years talking to young people in schools and workplaces about their relationship with technology, what's interesting to me is how self aware they are about the negative aspects of their screen lives.
There’s a perception that it's the older, less tech savvy, generation who are experiencing a kind of 'moral panic' around social media and technology but I've found that’s simply not the case. Young people are leading the charge to disconnect more and get a healthier balance with social media and screens.
In fact, 34% of Gen Z say they’re permanently quitting social media, and 64% are considering taking a break, according to one 2018 piece of US research. The survey of more than 1,000 18- to 24-year-olds across America discovered a total of 41% are made to feel anxious, sad, or depressed by platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Yet 77% still say having these accounts provides more benefits than drawbacks.
The 64% of Gen Z who reported taking breaks from social media said they were more likely to turn off from platforms that feed insecurities and made them feel bad about themselves - a strategy that adults could follow their lead on.
In the meantime we can all take a leaf out of Gen Z's book by supporting RSPH's campaign this September and choosing from a variety of different ways to cut down on social media for the month and reassess our own relationship with social media.
Developing a healthier way to be online doesn’t need to mean going cold turkey but finding a way to balance the positive aspects of social media connectivity with an appreciation that there can be downsides when we spend too much time online, especially when that time is the mindless screen scrolling that now fills so many waking hours.
I'm delighted that Time To Log Off is supporting the RSPH's Scroll Free September campaign and hope this is the first step in building our understanding of what a healthy, happy, online life looks like.