Scottish school pupils are to be coached on how to use social media healthily amid fears that sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are contributing to a decline in their mental health.
Official advice on how to cope with the pressures of social media is to be created with contributions from young people themselves, backed by £90,000 of funding from the Scottish Government.
Ministers are also set to commission a review of the scientific evidence about the effects of prolonged screen time on teenagers’ sleep patterns, and the impact this has on their health.
The measures were announced as a report published yesterday said children may be suffering due to overuse of social media, sleep disruption, concerns about body image and pressure at school.
It noted that the mental health of young people in Scotland had worsened in recent years, with the decline particularly marked among adolescent girls, who use social media more than boys.
It also said the widespread use of mobile phones and social media among teenagers meant that their sleep was being disrupted at night, with possibly serious implications for their overall health.
Teenage girls are also stressed at school, with a nationwide survey in 2015 showing that 62 per cent of 15-year-olds felt pressured “a lot of the time”, compared with just 26 per cent in 2002. It also said many young girls in Scotland reported being “unsatisfied with their physical appearance” as they tried to meet the unrealistic standards seen on social media.
It also cited the results of a 2017 survey of young people by the Royal Society for Public Health, which asked how they felt about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube. It said: “YouTube was the only one with a net positive impact, with the other four making feelings of anxiety and depression worse. Instagram was found to have the most negative impact.”
Mental health minister Clare Haughey announced the plans to address the issue during a visit to her former school, Trinity High School in Rutherglen.
She said: “Social media does have the potential to be used in a hugely positive way, but we want to ensure young people are properly informed on how social media promotes unrealistic expectations.”
The move was welcomed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, but it said children were also suffering from a lack of mental health services due to cuts to local councils.
“The reality is that right now many children and young people are not getting the help they need to stop falling into crisis,” said Dr Elaine Lockhart.
“Scotland needs joined up services so that children and young people can access help when they need it.
“However, much of that early help has been provided through local authority budgets which have fallen in recent years, affecting what can be offered within schools, social services and the third sector.”